Pensacola Beach leaseholders and businesses have been involved in several lawsuits regarding legality of taxing both leased land and improvements on the land since 2004.
The state’s highest court heard two cases in November 2012. One was for taxing improvements on 2,400 residential properties on Pensacola Beach. The other was for taxing land and improvements on roughly 850 pieces of property on Navarre Beach in Santa Rosa County.
In a pair of unanimous opinions issued on March 20, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court approved of the county’s assessment and collection of ad valorem real property taxes for certain leaseholds on Santa Rosa Island. The Court found that Pensacola Beach leaseholders have “virtually all the benefits and burdens of ownership.” This effectively makes them the private owners subject to property taxation. The cases largely put to rest the decades long debate over beach leasehold taxes.
Now we are dealing with the fallout - how do these rulings affect the lawsuit on taxation of the land, how and when will the County address double taxation (ad valorem and lease fees), how much tax money will the County return to the island and what is the future of the Santa Rosa Island Authority?
The First District Court of Appeal, in an opinion released May 30, 2019, has unanimously AFFIRMED the ruling by Escambia County Circuit Court Judge Scott Duncan ruling that the Escambia County School District lacked standing to challenge the Constitutionality of Fla. Stats. Section 196.199(2)(b) governing taxation of leases on government-owned land. This ruling lets stand the trial court’s ruling that the land beneath Santa Rosa Dunes at Pensacola Beach belongs to the County, and is thus immune from ad valorem taxation.
The issue was before the First DCA on an appeal by the Escambia County School District which sought, at the behest of the Escambia County Property Appraiser, to challenge the constitutionality of the controlling tax statute. All of the judges on the three-judge panel acknowledged that controlling precedent supported the trial judge’s granting of summary judgment against the school district. In a concurring opinion, Judge Bilbrey wrote that while he disagreed with the broad restrictions placed on standing by public officials, that he agreed the panel was bound to follow such precedent. He pointed out that the First DCA had previously upheld the constitutionality of the challenged statute, concluding that “even if the District had standing to sue, we would be correct to affirm…”
“We are obviously pleased with this decision,” said Ed Fleming, who together with Todd Harris, represented Santa Rosa Dunes. “This puts to bed the last avenue for challenging the earlier wins for Pensacola Beach leaseholders in Island Resorts v. Jones, and Beach Club v. Jones.”
Harris said that more than half of the pending cases with the Property Appraiser concerning valuing improvements only, recognizing the immunity of publically-owned land, have been resolved; and he and Fleming are optimistic that the remaining cases can be resolved as well.
1108 Ariola, LLC v. Jones (Taxes on Land)
Florida First District Court of Appeal Opinion (No. 1D10-2050): http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6413174389450369503
Florida Supreme Court Filings (No. SC11-2231): http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/11/11-2231/index.html
Florida Supreme Court Oral Arguments: http://wfsu.org/gavel2gavel/viewcase.php?eid=370
Accardo v. Brown (Taxes on Improvements)
Florida First District Court of Appeal Opinion (No. 1D10-4072): http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1013131377402627411
Florida Supreme Court Filings (No. SC11-1445): http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/11/11-1445/index.html
Florida Supreme Court Oral Arguments: http://wfsu.org/gavel2gavel/viewcase.php?eid=369
Recent Late Filed Lawsuits in Trial Courts Contesting 2013 Taxes:http://www.escambiaclerk.com/xml/xmlBM.asp?ucase_id=2006727 http://www.escambiaclerk.com/xml/xmlBM.asp?ucase_id=2006729