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  1. Pasco

Why are some Pasco residents paying Hillsborough's higher sales tax?

They were charged a higher sales tax — the new, 8.5 percent rate in Hillsborough County that became effective Jan. 1 — even though their purchases did not take place in that county.
MICHELE MILLER | Times Matthew Connor, owner of Beef O’Brady’s restaurant in Lutz, Pasco County, noticed an unexpected increase in his January rent and other services. He discovered he was billed at a higher sales tax rate. Pasco charges 7 percent sales tax, but a new rate of 8.5 percent went into effect in Hillsborough County Jan. 1
Published Feb. 14

Retiree Linda Prendergast noticed a higher price on her receipt from the Tommy Hilfiger store at Tampa Premium Outlets mall.

Restaurant owner Matthew Connor figured it out when he perused his January invoices for rent, dining room supplies and even the cost of washing the business' windows.

Marianne Thomas started asking questions when the leased price of her 2018 Lincoln MKZ increased "due to a tax increase in Florida.''

It turned out all three were charged a higher sales tax — the new, 8.5 percent rate in Hillsborough County that became effective Jan. 1 — even though their purchases did not take place in that county.

They all bought stuff in Pasco County. So why are they paying Hillsborough's higher sales tax rate?

"I still find that hard to believe,'' said Prendergast, 65, a Land O' Lakes resident and one-time chief financial officer for a private company.

Likely culprits are U.S. Postal Service ZIP codes. Tampa Premium Outlets mall, despite its name, is in Pasco County. It's just south of the Interstate 75 and State Road 56 interchange and has a Lutz mailing address even though the locale commonly is referred to as Wesley Chapel.

Connor's Beef O' Brady's restaurant is in a retail plaza on the northwest corner of State Road 54 and Sun Lake Boulevard. It, too, has a Lutz address, though most consider it in Land O' Lakes. Ivy Lake Estates is south of SR 54 on the west side of the Suncoast Parkway. That is in Odessa.

Both communities straddle the Hillsborough-Pasco border, but some companies charged the higher tax apparently because of a mistaken belief that all of Lutz and Odessa are south of the Pasco County line.

"That is just outrageous in my opinion. That is unacceptable,'' said Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, who wondered if Pasco County was being shortchanged because of misreported sales tax revenues.

It was Prendergast who drew the matter to Fasano's attention. She spent part of Jan. 27 at the Tampa Premium Outlets mall visiting Bass, Polo and Tommy Hilfiger, where she bought a striped dress. Several days later, she noticed the receipt for her $83.99 dress purchase read: "SALES TAX 8.50 %,'' adding $7.14 to the bottom line. Other stores charged the correct amount, she said.

The company said the store corrected the sales tax error and offered refunds as soon as the issue was brought to its attention. A store employee charged a Tampa Bay Times reporter the correct sales tax amount of 7 percent during a Feb. 10 purchase.

Prendergast said she didn't contact the store, but she emailed Fasano's office.

"You know how much confusion it could cause?'' she said.

Connor offered similar a sentiment.

"How many other places in the (SR) 54 corridor have Lutz zip codes, and the vendors think they're in Hillsborough County?'' he asked. The Pasco Property Appraiser's Office said there are more than 15,000 parcels in Pasco County with Lutz or Odessa addresses.

Connor said his landlord and food supplier corrected the invoices when he pointed out the inaccurate tax rate. His landlord even got the Hillsborough rate wrong and billed the restaurant 8.2 percent in sales tax.

Thomas also emailed Fasano's office last week when her leasing company increased her payment. She acquired the vehicle in Hillsborough County, but under state law, the sales tax on a car is charged according to the purchaser's place of residence. Thomas told Fasano she had to provide a property tax record to prove she was entitled to Pasco's lower sales tax rate.

"It comes down to the name of the outlet mall, Tampa Premium Outlets,'' said Fasano. "These companies just think they're in Tampa, and at least one (was) charging the Hillsborough County tax rate. They ought to know where their stores are.''

The Florida Department of Revenue said customers who were overcharged should seek a refund from the businesses. Businesses can request a credit from the department if they provide refunds of sales tax dollars already forwarded to Tallahassee.

Prendergast didn't seek a refund, but she plans to offer advice at her next AARP meeting.

Check your receipts.

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.

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