Blog

  PBA uses this blog to post individual articles from our monthly newsletters. Members can comment on these articles.
  • 09/02/2011 9:46 PM | Anonymous

    The environment arm of PBA, Beachkeepers, had its inaugural meeting on Thursday, August 25th at the SRIA.  The meeting was attended by 27 enthusiastic volunteers who got things off to a first start in anticipation of others joining in.  JJ Waters, chairperson, gave an overview of the Beachkeepers mission and how we hope to proceed.  Attendees were asked to break down into 4 groups representing the areas of greatest concern determined from our recent survey of PBA members.  Each group was asked to identify a team leader, brainstorm on action ideas for their topic and develop a short term goal their group could address by the end of this year and a long term goal.

    The four groups and their team leaders are Wildlife Conservation (Teri Stephens); Alternative Transportation/Parking (Jay Baynes); Dune Preservation/Restoration (Terry Preston); and Litter/Recycling (Lois Hausman).  This group is so interested in the environment on Pensacola Beach that several people expressed an interest in working on more than one topic.

    Beachkeepers will meet again on Thursday, September 8th at 5 pm at the SRIA.  The groups will work on further refining their goals and action steps.  Additional participation is encouraged.

    Please consider joining PBA and getting involved in one of our committees.

  • 09/02/2011 9:45 PM | Anonymous

    Now that Escambia County is taxing us on our leaseholds (land), we are in a “double taxation” situation.  Even though we are being taxed on the land and improvements in 2011, the lease fees we pay to the SRIA do not go away.  The SRIA Board adopted the 2012 budget at their August 24th meeting.  This budget goes on to the County Commissioners for approval.  As is always the case, the budget of the SRIA which provides services to visitors, locals and tourists is supported completely by residential and commercial lease fees.  Fortunately, there was no increase in residential lease fees.  This is the result of PBA successfully challenging the proposed increase for 2011.

    Representatives of PBA having been meeting with County Commissioners and SRIA members and urging them to take quick action to provide leaseholders relief from “double taxation”.  The SRIA Board will discuss possible remedies at the September 28th board meeting.  There will be a joint meeting of the SRIA Board and the Board of County Commissioners in town on at 4:30 pm on October 4th.  We need a large turnout at this meeting.

    Please show your support for our efforts by joining the PBA

  • 09/02/2011 9:42 PM | Anonymous

    The status of the law suits remain pretty much the same as reported in the last newsletter.  We wait for a response from the First District Court of Appeal and the Florida Supreme Court.  It is worth noting that 2 attorneys have filed notice with the Supreme Court for Amicus Curiae, “Friend of the Court”.  This can be done by someone who is not a party to the case but believes the court’s decision may affect its interests.  In both cases, they are offering information to assist the Court in reversing the decision to tax the land on Navarre Beach.  You can follow this link and insert case number 1445 to see docket information on the Navarre Beach land case

    http://jweb.flcourts.org/pls/docket/ds_docket_search%20

    Escambia County Property Appraiser, Chris Jones, sent out the Notice of Proposed Property Taxes in August.  Almost everyone noticed the increase in taxes, but it took extra effort to determine the assessed value of the land that accounted for the increase in taxes.  This is the first time the leased land is being taxes as ad valorem property.  Suffice it to say that this Notice was less than user friendly.  You can see a clear breakdown of the assessed value of improvements and land by doing a property search on the Property Appraiser’s web site.  Use the following link and insert any number of the search criteria available on your Notice (name, address, etc.)

    http://www.escpa.org/CAMA/Search.aspx

    The Notice of Proposed Property Taxes provides an opportunity to question the accuracy of the value and to check that appropriate reductions and exemptions have been applied.  If you can not resolve differences with the Property Appraiser’s Office, you can file a petition with the Value Adjustment Board (deadline of September 2, 2011).  In order to contest the legality of taxing the land, a complaint must be filed in the Circuit Court within 60 days of the tax roll being certified.  That deadline usually falls around mid-December.

    PBA President, Jim Cox, convened an August 23rd meeting of representatives who worked with the attorneys on the residential, commercial and Portofino law suits concerning improvements.  Attorneys Danny Kepner and Ed Fleming updated the group on the status of the ongoing cases and discussed options for challenging taxation of the land.  A lot depends on whether or not the Florida Supreme Court agrees to consider the Navarre Beach case.  If they do not agree to take the case, our options are limited (but not gone) to successfully challenge the land tax on Pensacola Beach.  A follow-up meeting of this group is scheduled for mid-September.  PBA will keep you informed on this important issue.

    Please join PBA

  • 09/02/2011 4:40 PM | Anonymous

    The County has engaged Baskerville Donovan to do an engineering review of the ideas that were generated by last spring’s Master Plan, and develop cost estimates, priorities, and likely funding sources.  Baskerville made a presentation the SRIA on August 24th.

    Comments are being accepted on the Baskerville Donovan engineering study of the Master Plan.  The report from Baskerville Donovan is available on this web site for your review.  There is a project comment line (850) 430-1700.  Comments can dropped off at the SRIA office or emailed to masterplan@baskervilledonovan.com  Comments period closes on September 12th.  The Master Plan Steering Committee meets on September 7th at 11 am at the SRIA to discuss the report from Baskerville Donovan.  This meeting is open to the public.

    PB Master Plan Report 8-24-11

    Since the process of developing a Master Plan for Pensacola Beach has been a long process, it might be helpful to provide a brief recap.  In the fall of 2009, the SRIA selected a planning firm to develop a Master Plan as a vision for future.  EDSA from Ft. Lauderdale was selected and contracted with the SRIA.  A 13 member Steering Committee was appointed to provide guidance to EDSA.  Over the course of the next few months, the Steering Committee met and public workshops were held to encourage input on the Plan.

    The SRIA Board adopted the EDSA conceptual Master Plan in April, 2010.  http://sria-fla.com/admin/documents/edsamasterfinal.pdf    The EDSA plan promoted the concept of a beach to bay experience.  The focus of improvements in the core area involved redirecting Pensacola Beach Blvd. to go straight into the Casino Beach parking lot.  Traffic patterns and pedestrian movement would be changed by the use of roundabouts, an elevated roadway, and a pedestrian walkway at grade beneath the elevation of the road near the current traffic light.  The cost of the EDSA Master Plan was roughly $336,000.

    In our February newsletter we reported that the County awarded an engineering contract to Baskerville Donovan to do the engineering design of the Master Plan.  The $150,000 cost of the engineering study came out of Local Option Sales Tax funds.  Baskerville Donovan was tasked to analyze the feasibility of the ideas included in the EDSA report, make cost estimates, set construction priorities, and recommend funding options.  We were told that there will be public forums at several stages of the engineering process, but none were scheduled.

    On August 24th, Baskerville Donovan made a presentation of their preliminary findings to the SRIA Board with about 50 interested parties on hand.  They concluded that the roundabouts proposed by EDSA were unworkable.  Instead, they presented an option of extending the service road on the east side of Pensacola Beach Blvd.   The presentation included 5 options for changing the intersection with cost estimates and grades applied for the level of service achieved (E and F are failing levels).  Baskerville Donovan also entertained the option of moving the toll facility to the north bound lane, so that people would pay the toll upon leaving the Beach.  The board members were allowed to ask questions, but no one in the audience was permitted to speak.  Anyone wishing to comment was instructed to use the comment process.

    It is not clear at this point how input from the Steering Committee or other comments submitted to BDI will be incorporated into the engineering review.  BDI’s final report on this phase is expected to go to the County by October 31, 2011.

    Read more about the history of the beach master plan

  • 08/17/2011 3:45 PM | Anonymous

    Pensacola Beach Advocates
    NOTICE OF ANNUAL MEETING
    Monday, October 10th at 5:00 p.m.
    Beach Community Church Hall

    Agenda Items:

    1. Double Taxation on Pensacola Beach – What are the SRIA and the Board of County Commissioners going to do about it? Speakers include Commissioner Grover Robinson and County Attorney Alison Rogers.
    2. The Beach Master Plan – Status of the engineering study, priority of projects and potential funding sources.
    3. PBA Beachkeepers – update on current projects.
    4. Secretary’s Report – Minutes of 2010 Meeting
    5. Treasurer’s Report
    6. Election of Directors
  • 08/17/2011 3:42 PM | Anonymous

    We have been receiving many emails from leaseholders on Pensacola Beach who are very concerned about double taxation for leaseholds since they received their tax notice from Escambia County recently. Please read previous newsletters and blog postings on the background of lease fees, taxation, tax lawsuits, fee simple title.

    The Pensacola Beach Advocates organization has been involved in these important issues for years. These issues are complex and there are no simple solutions. We share your concerns and our board of directors has prepared this information to bring attention to this issue.  We will remain involved until it is resolved.

    If you are concerned and want to support us please joint PBA and make your annual donation of $30. Come to our annual meeting in October.

    Assumptions:

    • We need to prepare a backup plan for Beach leaseholders assuming that the Florida Courts uphold the taxation of both land and improvements on Pensacola Beach and the leaseholders are faced with paying lease fees in addition to ad-valorem taxes.
    • This “double taxation” of Pensacola Beach leaseholders is unfair, and the only remedy is to eliminate the lease fees.
    • The County has introduced legislation to Congress to allow transfer of fee simple ownership of land to Pensacola Beach leaseholders. But this legislation could take four years, or may never be enacted at all. The citizens and businesses on Pensacola Beach cannot wait for the U.S. Congress to act to resolve the double taxation issue.

    Issues that need to be addressed:

    • Lease fees are pledged as collateral on certain bond issues. How can these guarantees be released?
    • The development agreement for Portofino provides for an Island Beautification Fund that currently reserves $490,000 per year of Portofino lease fees for island improvements.  What happens to these funds, now and in the future? The agreement also provides for up to $4.7 million in infrastructure improvements for the future development of the 12 acres of land east of Portofino. How will the County assume this commitment?
    • If the County decides to disband the SRIA, what state legislation will be needed to dissolve the SRIA, or can the Board of County Commissioners do that without state legislation? What will the successor entity to the SRIA look like? What will its functions be? How will it be funded?
    • There are 13 master leases that are in the names of corporations or LLC’s. There are 849 subleases to these master leases. In some cases (which ones yet to be determined) the rent paid by the sub-lessees is greater than the amount paid by the master lessee, yielding the master lessee a net profit.  How are such situations to be handled when the master lease fees go away? How will the sub-lessees derive any relief from double taxation?
    • It will take time to resolve these issues.  In the meantime, residential lessees are paying $2.7 million per year in lease fees in addition to ad-valorem taxes.  How can the County protect them in the meantime?  Should they drop lease fees for leaseholders paying taxes as was done in Santa Rosa County? Should they escrow tax dollars to later refund the lease fees if the courts rule in the Property Appraiser’s favor?
    • Currently the commercial leaseholders pay about $3.5 million per year in lease fees to the SRIA which are collected in the form of a 2 to 5% “SRIA fee” on commercial sales and rental income. Should some form of tax or fee on sales and rental income remain after the lease agreements are gone?
  • 08/04/2011 7:30 PM | Anonymous

    PBA Beachkeeper Survey Results have been compiled.  Our members were invited to take an on line survey between May 15th and June 15th .  We were interested in determining which environmental issues facing the Pensacola Beach are of interest to our members and what action by Beachkeepers is recommended to address these issues.  A total of 100 members responded to the survey out of 210 who were invited to participate.  Thank you to everyone who took the time to give us your input.

    Our members’ recommendations are summarized on page 2 of the survey results.  The PBA board will review the survey results and hear a suggested course of action from Beachkeeper Chair, JJ Waters at the board meeting this week.  A Beachkeeper meeting is planned for Thursday, August 25th at 5:30 pm at the SRIA board room.

  • 07/29/2011 2:59 PM | Anonymous

    On July 18th, The First District Court of Appeal (DCA) affirmed the ruling of the lower court in the case of Ariola v. Jones, that involves some 2,400 residential parcels on Pensacola Beach.  The three judge panel agreed that Pensacola Beach leaseholders are equitable owners and are subject to ad valorem property taxes on their improvements.  This time the ruling included a 15 page opinion http://opinions.1dca.org/written/opinions2011/07-18-2011/10-2050.pdf

    Danny Kepner, the lead attorney in this case, will file motions with the First District Court of Appeal by the August 2nd deadline.  The motions will ask for a rehearing of the case and also request certification of this case to the Florida Supreme Court because of its public importance.  None of the cases involving taxation of leasehold improvements have made it to Florida’s highest court.  All the other Escambia County appeals on taxation of improvements were simply affirmed, without a written opinion.  The Florida Supreme Court will not consider cases that are simply affirmed.  We anticipate a response from the First District Court of Appeal sometime in August.  If they do not grant either motion, the plaintiffs in this case still have the right to petition the Supreme Court directly for consideration.

    Following the decision in Navarre Beach case known as Ward v. Brown, the Santa Rosa Property Appraiser taxed the land as well as the improvements.  This case made its way through the courts.  On April 21st the First District Court of Appeal affirmed that the Navarre Beach leaseholders are the equitable owners of both the real property (land) and improvements.  This appellate panel wrote a 9 page opinion http://opinions.1dca.org/written/opinions2011/04-21-2011/10-4072.pdf     They also certified this case to the Florida Supreme Court as is being petitioned in the Pensacola Beach case (Ariola v. Jones).  The Navarre Beach opinion ends with “Given the significance of the issues presented herein, we certify to the Florida Supreme Court the following as a question of great public importance:

    WHETHER SECTION 196.199(2)(b), FLORIDA STATUTES, IS INAPPLICABLE TO THE REAL PROPERTY AT ISSUE BECAUSE APPELLANTS ARE THE EQUITABLE OWNERS OF THAT PROPERTY?

    Having the First District Court of Appeal certify a case does not guarantee that the Supreme Court will consider the case.  The Supreme Court will be asked to hear the Navarre Beach case.  We will continue to follow this case as well since taxation of the land on Pensacola Beach will be included in 2011 tax bills that come out in the fall.

    For more information, visit the tax litigation website at http://pbeachtaxsuit.com/

  • 07/29/2011 2:59 PM | Anonymous

    The other Pensacola Beach property tax case that is still ongoing involves Portofino.  Unlike the other cases, the Portofino leaseholders also contested the amount of the tax assessed on the improvements.  When the battle over the legality of taxes on improvements was lost, the case returned to Judge Frank Bell in Escambia County to challenge the methodology used by the Property Appraiser, Chris Jones, to determine the value of the improvements.

    Judge Bell ruled in December, 2010 that the Property Appraiser had indeed over-assessed the value of Portofino improvements.  He also ruled that the land at Portofino is owned by the County and is not subject to ad-valorem taxes.  This was the first time any court – local or appellate – had ruled that the leased land was not taxable. Chris Jones has appealed this ruling to the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.  Briefs are still being filed.  No date has been set for oral argument.

  • 07/29/2011 2:58 PM | Anonymous

    PBA launched a new website design this week thanks to the efforts of our secretary, Maria Weisnicht and her team at CED Technical Services. The website was built using the popular WordPress content management system. Site visitors can subscribe to our monthly newsletter, fill out a membership form, pay dues online and read and comment on blogs. We will post our newsletters on the site and we plan to use the blog to provide information on specific topics as news becomes available.

    We are also using Facebook as a way to connect with our stakeholders. Please take a second and become a fan of our Facebook page – just click here and press Like button. Feel free to post a comment on our wall or share the page with your friends.

    Anyone is free to subscribe to our newsletter, but we ask those of you who are stakeholders on the island – residents, leaseholders and business owners – to become a member by paying $30/year.

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