Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

City to Sue County over Fire Levy | County Says Nonprofit Entities Should Pay Fire Charge

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

City to Sue County over Fire Levy | County Says Nonprofit Entities Should Pay Fire Charge

Article excerpt

TAX DISPUTE

SARASOTA - Thirteen properties at the heart of a city-county dispute over taxation will land both governments in court after efforts to resolve the matter civilly failed.

City commissioners voted Monday to sue the county, arguing its special fire-rescue levy on municipal properties is illegal on several grounds. It violates the county's own taxing resolution; it violates the spirit of the state law; and it violates recent court decisions in cases almost identical to this, said deputy city attorney Mike Connolly.

Failure to challenge the levy, Connolly said, almost assuredly will embolden the county to expand the scope of its questionable practice. It could decide to assess the fire levy on other municipal properties, as well, he said. Or it could assess them the ad valorem tax to which they're currently exempt.

"We don't know what this opens us up to in the coming years," said Mayor Willie Shaw.

At issue is a special assessment the county levies to fund its fire and rescue operations. While many municipalities have their own fire departments, the city of Sarasota relies on the county for those services, and properties within the city are subject to the special assessment.

But government-owned properties that are exempt from ad valorem taxation are, normally, also exempt from non-ad valorem assessments such as the special fire-rescue levy. By taxing these properties, the city claims, the county is breaking the law.

Not so, the county argues. Although the city indeed owns these properties - and although they're exempt from ad valorem taxation - they are housing non-governmental entities and are thus susceptible to the special assessment.

Among the properties in dispute are those leased to nonprofit entities, such as the Mote Marine Laboratory, the Sarasota Garden Club, J.H. Floyd Sunshine Village and Save Our Seabirds.

The county levied the same assessment on its own properties leased to nonprofits, even though they, too, are exempt from ad valorem taxation. …

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