Homes and condos on Pensacola and Navarre Beaches will remain on the tax rolls, after a pair of decisions Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody reports.
The seven justices upheld a 2011 appeals-court ruling in favor of the property appraisers and tax collectors in Santa Rosa and Escambia Counties. They said that not only can the structures be taxed, but so can the county-owned land underneath them.
In the 19-page opinion, Justice Charles Canady wrote that for ad-valorem tax purposes, the property’s owner is not a governmental entity. The plaintiffs, he wrote, are the equitable owners and are liable for the taxes.
Greg Brown, Santa Rosa County Property Appraiser, says the ruling has answered the fairness issue. He’s been pushing for 13 years for taxing improvements on leased beach property, and for improvements on the land since 2006.
"I think it was a win for the people of Santa Rosa County that everybody contributes to the government operation of the county, even those on Pensacola Beach that hadn't in past years. Now everybody is contributing their fair share."
The cases involve roughly 850 residential properties on Navarre Beach, and about 2,400 at Pensacola Beach. Brown says the rulings mean that Santa Rosa County will be able to keep about $81 million in its coffers.
Brown recounts that soon after taking office he sought improvements on Navarre Beach be taxed and then sought legal action to change the tax law regarding property. It has generated $81 million of assessments for Okaloosa County.
Greg Brown’s counterpart in Escambia County – Chris Jones – also applauds what he calls the “avenue of last appeal” to the state Supreme Court. That also translates to big bucks for Escambia County.
Had the decision gone the other way – favoring the leaseholders – Jones says the county and Escambia School District would have had to provide refunds. In this complex case, Jones says Navarre and Pensacola Beaches were separate for the most part.
Jones says that the Pensacola Beach properties will now pay approximately the same as their land-based counterparts.
Attorney Danny Kepner represents the leaseholders in both locations. He says those final parts of the overall case were filed after the Court heard the oral arguments and took the case under advisement.
Kepner calls Thursday’s ruling a disappointment, and that the next step for the plaintiffs has yet to be determined.
The case itself likely won’t end up in a future law book on legal precedents, given that its impact is only in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.