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Innisbrook has a chronic tax dispute problem

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

No one wants to pay taxes, but surely few have gone to such extensive lengths as owners of the Innisbrook Golf Course and Resort in Palm Harbor to avoid paying them. Or at least all of them.

Owners of the posh members-only style property have been fighting tax bills since 1998. Between the first dispute until 2002 Innisbrook owners owed $2.2 million in back taxes they refused to pay because, they argued, then Property Appraiser Jim Smith over-appraised the property.

In 2004 the county settled with Innisbrook losing more than $1 million in tax revenue as a result.

Part of the agreement adjusted the property’s 2003 tax bill to just over $530,000.

Innisbrook owners filed another suit in 2012 arguing against an even lower tax bill – just $400,000. In fact, there have been disputes every year since 2011 including this year.

In 2014 a judge agreed to consolidate the cases into one. But now there’s another, and it uses previous litigation against now Property Appraiser Pam Dubov. Because she has worked in some leadership capacity with the office since the first lawsuit, lawyers for Innisbrook basically argue she should have known better.

“The property appraiser intentionally, and not through mistake or inadvertence, chosen to assess the subject property for 2014 using the same appraisal practices which were deemed unlawful,” the most recent suit alleges.

Innisbrook owners argue they were improperly assessed because the Property Appraiser failed to take into consideration the membership-only status of the gulf club. Because the course is not open to the general public, they argue they can’t possibly meet the revenue predictions estimated in the appraisal.

That’s a similar argument used in past litigation that resulted in favorable outcomes and adjusted tax bills for the property owners.

But the appraised value for 2014 is just $18 million – the lowest appraisal since 1996. And that’s not even adjusted for inflation.

Back in 2004 the original appraisal from the county was $30 million. Innisbrook said it should have been $15 million.

In the 2012 lawsuit, the property owners pushed back against a $19.5 million appraisal even though it had risen only slightly since the previous year when they were appraised $18.75 million. The lawsuit was also brought about the same year Innisbrooke was set to host delegates of the 2012 Republican National Convention.

The lawsuits aren’t terribly surprising though. Innisbrook has long faced financial woes. Back in 2004 the golf course was saddled with $100 million in debt and hadn’t paid a mortgage payment since late 2001.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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