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A Taxing Situation
by Ron Davis
The property-tax refund that the owners of a Florida shopping center are receiving won’t be as large as they think they are due.
The shopping center is International Plaza in Tampa, and the tax refund results from a challenge to the calculation methods used by the county tax assessor. The center’s owners argued that the assessor erred in determining the 2002-2005 tax bills. So they asked the courts to settle the matter.
While the dispute was under way, the center’s owners elected to pay the full amount of taxes due in November of each year rather than some lesser amount they admitted they actually owed. The full amount of taxes payable in November is based on a discount for early payment at the rate of 4 percent.
Eventually, the two parties reached a settlement, lowering the assessment for each of the years in question. The tax collector then issued revised tax bills and appropriate refunds.
The center’s owners disagreed, however, with the amounts of the revised tax bills. They contended that the tax collector’s method for calculating the refunds was flawed because it “eliminates any credit for paying early for each of the years at issue.” And they therefore submitted calculations that would give full credit for having satisfied the liability associated with the original tax assessment.
The tax collector responded that their calculation method would result in paying an amount of taxes that is less than the November discounted amount based on the revised assessments. But a Florida county court agreed with the center’s owners and ruled in their favor.
On appeal by the tax collector, a Florida appellate court rejected the argument by the center’s owners, explaining, “At first blush, the refund calculation adopted [by the lower court] seems plausible. But upon closer examination, that method does not withstand scrutiny. The flaw in the method is manifest once we consider that the method leads to the net payment by the shopping center owners of taxes for each year in an amount less than the November discounted amount based on the revised assessments…. The tax collector’s refund calculations put the center’s owners in the same position they would have been in had the assessments originally been made at the correct—that is, revised—amount and the resulting tax liability had been satisfied in Novem ber. (Belden v. Tampa Westshore Associates Limited Partnership, 2008 WL 1756543 [Fla.App. 2 Dist.])
Decision: April 2008
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