It turns out that more than a few businesses were confused about the exact location of Lutz and Odessa.
So, too, was the Florida Department of Revenue.
A state review of sales tax collections found that three dozen businesses, including 33 in Pasco, were assigned incorrect locations based on their addresses near the Pasco-Hillsborough border. That meant their sales tax payments were credited to the wrong county.
The net result?
The state is sending $624,384.19 to Pasco County by the end of the month.
“Wow. That’s terrific,’’ said retiree Linda Prendergast of Land O' Lakes, who drew attention to the issue after she was charged the Hillsborough sales tax rate of 8.5 percent during a Jan. 27 shopping trip to the Tommy Hilfiger store at the Tampa Premium Outlets mall in Pasco. She didn't contact the store, but sent her receipts to Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano.
“When you’ve got six zip codes that Pasco County shares with Hillsborough County, things like that are going to happen,'' said Fasano. "I'm surprised there weren’t more than 33.’’
More than 1,900 Pasco businesses are in the Lutz and Odessa zip codes shared by both counties, according to data the Pasco Tax Collector's Office sent to the state. Fasano requested the state review after Prendergast and a Lutz woman who leased a car from a Hillsborough dealership reported being charged an incorrect, higher sales tax. The Tampa Bay Times detailed the discrepancies in a Feb. 14 story.
Hillsborough voters approved two sales tax increases in November to pay for transportation and schools. It brought the combined state and county sales tax rate in Hillsborough to 8.5 percent, effective Jan. 1. Pasco’s combined rate is 7 percent.
One of the Pasco businesses charging an incorrect rate was the Hyatt Place Wesley Chapel, a hotel that opened Aug. 2 on the northwest corner of the Interstate 75 and State Road 56 interchange. It has a Lutz address and had charged both the higher sales tax and tourist tax of Hillsborough County, based on its certification from the state Department of Revenue.
Pasco’s tourist tax on overnight accommodations is 4 percent and is collected by the state. Hillsborough charges a 5 percent bed tax and relies on Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden to collect it.
Belden’s office sent a nearly $58,000 tourist tax refund to the hotel on March 1 after it learned that the hotel was sending its bed tax receipts to the wrong location.
Brenden Chiaramonte, Belden’s executive assistant, said the office verified that other hotels with Lutz/Odessa addresses are not making similar errors. He said the office would rely on county property appraiser records to confirm locations in the future.
As she said she would, Prendergast talked to members of her AARP chapter about being charged too much. Few could commiserate, however, because they said they don’t check their receipts.
“It’s a shame, though,’’ said Prendergast. “They trust the system.’’
Fasano pointed to the November election outcomes in Hillsborough as the real key.
"Had Hillsborough not raised their sales tax,'' he said, "we may not have ever found out about these other businesses.''
Contact C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.