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Ruling shrinks tax pool further

The pool of money available for downtown redevelopment shrank again when a Circuit Court judge ruled that two downtown retirement centers are not taxable, reducing the downtown area's taxable value by 7 percent. Judge Howard P. Rives ruled last week that the city of Clearwater has enough interest in the Oaks of Clearwater to justify removing the two waterfront towers from the county property tax roll. Officials were informed of the decision Monday.

"My feeling is yes, it will hurt, and yes, it will look bad," said Deputy City Manager Kathy Rice. "But it will not have any significant effect on the projects we are doing now."

The city of Clearwater owns the land under the Oak Cove Retirement Center and Oak Bluffs Retirement Center and Nursing Facility, and the two homes will revert to the city in about 23 years, said J. Paul Raymond, an attorney for the two homes.

Meanwhile, both retirement centers operate on behalf of the city and serve a public good, Raymond said. Municipal and county governments need not pay taxes on property they own that fulfills a public purpose.

Property appraisers agreed that the two homes were operating on behalf of the city as a public function, Raymond said. The county had questioned the degree of the city's interest in the buildings, and had agreed to let a judge decide.

"It just wasn't clear-cut," said Property Appraiser Jim Smith. "We feel the best way to handle those things is to let an impartial person decide."

Smith said appraisers will not appeal the judge's decision.

About $13-million in value will be removed from the tax roll for 1991 as a result of Rives' decision, Smith said. Last month, preliminary figures released by the property appraiser showed a decline in taxable values downtown. Apparently the total taxable value in downtown Clearwater will decline by about $22-million, from $189-million to $167-million.

Had the two retirement centers been kept on the rolls, they would have paid about $180,000 in property taxes. However, the bulk of that money would go to other government agencies _ such as the School Board _ and not the downtown, City Manager Michael Wright said.

Taxing authorities may have to return $80,000 in tax money that the Oaks paid for 1990 property taxes, said Rice, the deputy city manager.

"We may get a double whammy, if that happens," she said.