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Valuation of power plant leads to dispute

Mirant Corp., owner of Pasco's newest power plant, is at odds with county Property Appraiser Mike Wells over its recent assessment, saying a $163.5-million figure is too high for its Shady Hills facility.

Mirant wants the Property Appraiser's Office to shave about $3.3-million off the assessment of its tangible property, bringing it closer to $160-million, a roughly $70,000 savings in taxes.

Wells said no.

A special master is reviewing the issue. A decision is expected early next month.

The dispute comes after Mirant initially said it should be assessed only $38-million in tangible personal property, which is any item other than real estate, that is used in a business. The classification includes furniture, fixtures, machinery, equipment, tools, signs and other assets.

Why the discrepancy?

"We'd like to think it's because they don't know what they're talking about," Wells said.

Mirant spokesman David Payne said he was unfamiliar with the case and could not comment on it. A representative with the company's external affairs department said he would contact Mirant's tax department on the matter.

The company did abandon their $38-million figure, seeking a smaller reduction from Wells instead.

The dispute is the latest trial for Mirant Corp., a competitive energy company that produces and sells electricity to power companies in North America, the Caribbean and the Philippines.

Mirant filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in July.

On Tuesday it reported a $2.2-billion net loss for the second quarter of 2003.

The difficulties come a year after Mirant opened its first location in Florida _ acquiring the 30-acre Shady Hills plant in 2001 from El Paso Corp. in 2001 while it was still under construction.

Commercial operation began in 2002.

With more than 10,000 employees, Mirant provides electricity to other power companies that need it during peak service times, such as hot days when residents turn on their air conditioners.

The Shady Hills facility has a five-year contract to provide electricity wholesale to a utility, the name of which Mirant has refused to disclose citing confidentiality agreements.

The plant is the second-largest tangible taxpayer in Pasco County, after Florida Power, which has an assessed value of $215-million.

Wells is sticking to his staff's assessment value for Mirant.

"We think our value is good," he said. "You don't get an adjustment out of my office just by appealing."

But "I don't blame them for trying," he added. "This is America."