PENSACOLA BEACH – An attorney representing a company
developing resort towers in Pensacola Beach believes a request by the Escambia County
property appraiser and tax collector asking the Florida Supreme Court to reverse a ruling prohibiting the county from collecting taxes on the land will be denied.
Edward P. Fleming, a founding member and partner of
McDonald, Fleming, Moorhead Attorneys at Law and an attorney representing
Island Resorts Investments Inc. in Island
Resorts v. Jones, said the county officials asked the state’s high court to
reverse the ruling because it conflicts with a previous case addressing the
issue of taxation on land, Accardo v.
“We believe that (the) request, to be briefed during the next 30
days, will be denied, as Accardo was
limited to perpetual leases,” Fleming told the Florida Record.
Under a Santa Rosa Island deed agreement, Escambia County
cannot sell land on the island outright.
Fleming said the law currently states that land leased from
the government of Pensacola Beach should be taxed only as intangible personal
property, but a key question is whether the “lease” at issue is truly a lease.
Fleming said the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that a lease that never ends,
also known as a lease in perpetuity, is not a lease.
“The analysis that must be done is to determine whether the lease
at issue is, or is not, a ‘true’ lease,” Fleming said.
Fleming said Escambia County Property Appraiser
Chris Jones has stated that he does not intend to apply the Island Resorts v. Jones decision to
condominiums, constituting more than half of the residential properties at
“His attempt to distinguish condos is not supported by law,
and runs contrary to existing law, but it is apparent that this (is) a battle that
will have to be fought,” Fleming said.
In an amended appellant brief filed in September 2015 with
the 1st District Court of Appeal, Fleming and attorney
R. Todd Harris of McDonald, Fleming, Moorhead wrote “the property appraiser has
misinterpreted and misapplied a Florida Statute he does not like to reach an
unlawful result – i.e., a failure to follow the mandatory language of the
controlling statute requiring that the leasehold interest now before this court
be taxed for what it is, intangible personal property.”
In March, the district court of appeal overturned a ruling
from the Circuit Court for Escambia County that would have allowed Pensacola
Beach leaseholders to be assessed ad valorem property taxes. In May, an appeals
court denied the county’s motion for rehearing the case.
Fleming said the property at Pensacola Beach was not taxed
before 2004, and the revenue from lease fees was adequate to sustain beach government
and beach services. Beach residents were assessed special taxes for fire
protection, mosquito control and some other services. Starting in 2004, beach
residents were taxed on value of improvements only, and, beginning in 2011,
they were taxed for improvements and land.
“The Island Resorts v.
Jones case only deals with taxation of land, and that case held that the
land belongs to Escambia County – not the leaseholders,” Fleming said. “Land
that belongs to the county is not subject to ad valorem taxation, but the
leasehold interests in land is taxable as intangible personal property by