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Golf club's tax dispute may go before a jury

Since 2002, Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club has challenged its property tax appraisal.

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS
Published June 2, 2006


PALMA CEIA - Several years ago, the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office determined there is a big difference between a vacant grassy lot and a golf course.

Contoured greens meticulously designed by landscaping architects made properties worth more, the appraisers decided. So the office changed the way it calculated values.

In 2002, those revised values appeared in the form of higher property taxes for golf courses throughout the county.

Of the county's more than 40 golf courses, three course owners complained about the increase.

But only one has kept the dispute in court for four years: the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club.

Most of the people whose homes neighbor the golf course pay more than $1-million to live so close to the green. Last names of past and present members of the exclusive club read like landmarks on a Tampa treasure map: Frankland, Culbreath, Steinbrenner.

But when the appraiser's office upped the value of the golf course by more than $1-million, therefore increasing taxes by about $30,000 a year, the golf course sued.

Every year since 2002, the country club has filed a lawsuit against the county appraiser, tax collector and executive director of the Florida Department of Revenue to contest the added value.

"Nothing had physically happened at Palma Ceia to warrant the change," said country club attorney Robert E. V. Kelley Jr.

As of this year, the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club's eight buildings and golf course are worth about $6.3-million, including $1.2-million for the golf course, according to the county.

"Given South Tampa real estate numbers these days, we think it's pretty conservative," said county property appraiser attorney Will Shepherd.

Stan and Frankie Harrell's 11,500-square-foot home on the edge of the fourth hole has a just market value of $7.2-million, according to the county appraiser's Web site. Two other neighboring homes sold this year for $2.4-million and $1.8-million.

County and golf course officials have conducted their own re-evaluations of the property's value. At a mediation conference this month, they will trade their new numbers.

Shepherd said that after re-examining the property's value for the lawsuit, the appraiser's assessment has actually increased.

If the two sides cannot agree on a number, the dispute will go to a jury trial, where a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge will decide on the property value.

Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this story. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813 226-3354 or azayas@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 1, 2006, 11:40:32]


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