Sunday, February 18, 2018
Editorials

Time for Pinellas to end tax fight over ranch

A disputed property tax bill for the 12,400-acre Cross Bar Ranch in central Pasco is one more reason for Pinellas County to consider selling the property to Pasco. Pinellas has no reason to hold on to the land it once needed to supply water, and there is no reason the counties should be fighting over property tax bills.

The anti-tax claim by Pinellas is questionable considering the land generates revenue — 1,000 acres of pine trees recently were clear-cut for timber — and Pinellas failed to file exemption applications with the Pasco property appraiser. Instead, Pinellas sent a we're-not-paying letter to the Pasco tax collector 26 days after the deadline for its 2012 tax payment. The tardy claim flunked legal sufficiency and resulted in a higher tax bill to the public since $7,700 in penalties have been added to the delinquent $52,000 tax bill. Pinellas maintains it can no longer make "voluntary'' payments even though the 2012 bill amounted to just $4.14 of property tax per acre.

The disagreement is likely to generate legal bills for both counties and should give pause to Pinellas commissioners who rebuffed Pasco's purchase overtures last month when they failed to hire an outside appraiser. The land, a remnant of the water wars and home to 17 wellheads owned by Tampa Bay Water, totals 36 parcels that Pinellas acquired over 14 years for $10.3 million.

The Pasco property appraiser values the land at $57 million, more than five times the purchase prices but still substantially less than during the real estate market's peak a half dozen years ago when the state added it to its preservation list.

State purchase of the land is no longer a realistic option, which leaves Pasco County as the only public suitor. It is time for Pinellas to end the tax dispute, determine the land's potential value, and work with its neighbors to maintain the property as highly desirable public green space. The legitimate reason for Pinellas taxpayers to own the Pasco property has long passed.

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