Tuesday, April 03, 2007

For Whom Bell Tolls: Portofino Taxes

Judge Frank Bell ruled that Escambia County is legally authorized to impose ad valorem taxes on Portofino condo unit owners, according to Michael Stewart's abbreviated article in today's Pensacola News Journal. The unpublished opinion was filed last week but just came to public attention today.

That has to be devastating news for the five-tower high-rise complex. At last count, more than 120 units were listed for sale. Many more were rumored to be "pocket listings" -- not listed anywhere but readily available for purchase if you knew your way around the local real estate swamp. Now that real estate taxes have to be taken into consideration, the market will be just that much smaller and slower.

Explains Stewart:
Because beach leaseholders do not own the land on which their homes and businesses are built, they pay lease fees and have argued beach taxes are not legal. Leases are for a minimum of 99 years, with many leases providing an option for a second 99 years.
Earlier, a similar ruling rendered Pensacola Beach businesses subject to property taxation on their commercial rental land leases.

Among the lawsuits yet to be decided by the courts is a homeowner residents' suit. Many have considered that one to be the strongest case of all because of the explicit written, oral, and even state statutory promises that beach leaseholds and improvements would be tax-free, promises which Escambia County consistently made over the decades in an effort to develop the island.

The Portofino development wasn't leased until 1999, by which time the county had stopped making tax-free promises. The strong record of historic tax-free promises didn't affect Navarre Beach, either, where serious development didn't get underway until the mid-1980's. In any event Santa Rosa County never engaged in the same "tax free" public marketing strategies.

Even so, some residents are pessimistic. Florida courts don't have a good record for requiring Escambia County to keep its governmental word. That pessimism may explain why one person even sold evidence of Escambia County's "tax-free promise" pamphlets on Ebay a while ago.

The winning bidder paid $20.50 for the evidence. That may be the most anyone ever makes out of the otherwise worthless promises of Escambia County -- except, of course, for the lawyers and real estate brokers.

Someone knew what he was doing when he borrowed the Creek Indian word for "money exchange" to name Escambia County.

14 comments:

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