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Scream-A-Geddon gets its own scare: a citation carrying a $23,500 fine

The Pasco Sheriff’s Office tickets the haunted house attraction for not having a business tax receipt, which brings a $500 daily penalty.

DADE CITY — Halloween week turned frightful for the owner of the seasonal Scream-A-Geddon haunted house attraction after Pasco County cited him for operating without the proper business license.

Failure to obtain the business tax receipt carries a daily fine of up to $500. The park opened its 2019 season on Sept. 13, according to the Oct. 29 citation. The 47 days in the interim meant the fine totaled $23,500.

The cost of the annual license to operate an amusement facility in Pasco County is $9.25.

"The bill was due and that unfortunately slipped through the cracks on our end,'' said Scream-A-Geddon owner Benjamin Nagengast. "It has been paid.''

But, he called the looming fine "essentially a penalty for filing it late. I believe that there’s a miscommunication and that a $23,500 late fee for a $9.25 business tax receipt is out of proportion.''

Pasco County officials ultimately agreed and said they would lower the fine to $500, Nagengast’s attorney, Clarke Hobby, said Thursday.

Scream-A-Geddon opened on St. Joe Road west of Dade City in 2015 and the cluster of haunted houses immediately became a popular Halloween attraction. Nagengast’s companies also own and operate the neighboring TreeHoppers Adventure Park zip lining course and has plans to open Florida’s first outdoor snow park on adjoining property in the winter of 2020.

Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano said his staff recently noticed Scream-A-Geddon did not have a business tax receipt. Fasano said he called Nagengast as a courtesy and notified the Pasco County Code Enforcement office. A Pasco Sheriff’s corporal who investigates code enforcement complaints issued the citation Tuesday.

Fasano said his office research showed Scream-A-Geddon had never obtained the business tax receipt since its inception. The citation, however, only covers the current season.

The business tax receipt, formerly called an occupational license, is assessed annually by local ordinance and is due no later than Oct. 1. The Pasco Tax Collector’s Office has issued more than 20,000 receipts for the current fiscal year. Many but not all local governments assess a similar business tax receipt. In the Tampa Bay area, Hernando County and unincorprated Pinellas County do not require it.

The amount of the fee varies depending on the type of business. Scream-A-Geddon originally was categorized as "dancing or other entertainments,'' carrying a $225 charge. After Nagengast provided additional documentation, the Pasco Tax Collector’s Office designated the park as an "amusement facility,'' akin to a skating rink or trampoline park. That license costs $9.25.

Nagengast could have challenged the fine in Pasco County Court. Instead, he said he will pay the reduced penalty immediately.

Fasano did not appear sympathetic.

"If we’re going to have businesses in Pasco County that are following the letter of the law and the ordinance requiring business tax receipt then every business should do it,'' he said.