Monday, August 25, 2008

Portofino: Killing the Golden Goose

Local media outlets today are trumpeting the news that Portofino Towers condo unit owners have lost their last chance for appealing the adverse decision on ad valorem taxes rendered earlier this year. As PNJ reporter Michael Stewart succinctly puts it, "Residents of the 753 upscale waterfront condominiums cannot appeal to a higher court."

The reason, of course, is that under the Florida state constitution, the state's Supreme Court has only limited jurisdiction over civil appeals. Lower court appellate opinions that do not explicitly conflict with other Florida district court appeals decisions, or which do not directly implicate constitutional issues, simply cannot be reviewed by the highest court in the land.

Therein lies the real advantage of one-word court decisions: judges that write them don't have to answer to anybody. And, they are free to ignore historical facts.

You can be sure Escambia County Tax Collector Janet Holley, even now, is licking the stamps to bill condo owners a grand total of $19 million in back taxes. Stewart explains:
Leaseholders were given the option of paying the taxes and having the money held in escrow until the lawsuits were settled or declining payment with back taxes and 12 percent interest due if the county prevailed.

Many chose not to pay and now owe in excess of $40,000 or more in back taxes.

That does not include taxes owed this year, which have yet been calculated.
We offer this gentle suggestion to Escambia County: Don't hold your breath waiting for the money. $40,000 in back taxes per unit and another assessment coming down on Towers owners, plus some of the highest monthly maintenance fees on the beach cannot be attractive selling points for the estimated one hundred and fifty units (or more) now languishing on the real estate market or in the pockets of starving brokers. We foresee quite a few Portofino owners who are pressed for cash will simply walk away.

Escambia County politicians haven't managed, quite yet, to kill the golden goose that is Pensacola Beach, but the bird sure is looking mighty sick.

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