Indian Rocks Beach mayor's homestead exemption examined
Despite claims by a rival on the commission and by Mayor Bill Ockunzzi, neither appears to have done anything wrong.
By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
Published February 13, 2007
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - In the latest salvo in what appears to be an ongoing political spat, the validity of Mayor Bill Ockunzzi's homestead exemption has come under question.
This comes days after a similar question was raised by Ockunzzi about Commissioner Jose Coppen's homestead exemption during a meeting to discuss an ethics complaint.
Both officials deny any wrongdoing.
And as far as their respective homestead exemptions, the Property Appraiser's Office appears to agree.
"We have gotten a flurry of calls, but there is no formal investigation of either official," Erin Moore, deputy for assessment administration in the Property Appraiser's Office, said Friday.
Coppen owns a four-unit condominium on Gulf Boulevard and is claiming a homestead exemption on two of the units.
This is permissible, Moore says, because Coppen has combined the two units into one living space for himself and his wife.
Similarly, Moore says Ockunzzi, whose Gulf Boulevard home includes an art studio/retail store and a licensed bed and breakfast, is legally claiming a homestead exemption for 57 percent of the floor space - the area that he and his wife personally live in.
Last year's 100 percent homestead exemption on Ockunzzi's property was also proper, Moore said, since it was the first year the completed structure appeared on the tax rolls and, as such, did not qualify for a Save Our Home tax cap.
The tax status of a property, she said, is based on its use as of Jan. 1 in any given year.
Ockunnzi's home, which was completed in 2005, was not licensed for a bed and breakfast until mid 2006.
It was taxed as an empty lot in 2005 and as a homesteaded property in 2006.
The 2007 tax bill reflects the split commercial and personal use of the property, Moore said.
Bottom line, according to Moore, is that neither the mayor nor the commissioner have done anything wrong.
The political dispute between Ockunzzi and Coppen began when Coppen filed an ethics complaint against the mayor with the state Commission on Ethics, charging that Ockunzzi had improperly acted as an attorney when he presented an edited development agreement to the commission.
The subsequent homestead exemption flap began when Ockunzzi put an e-mail he received from resident Nancy Obarski questioning Coppen's homestead exemption on the agenda of a special meeting called to discuss Coppen's ethics complaint.
During the commission meeting Monday, Coppen charged that Ockunzzi was "getting personal" and conducting "dirty politics."
Coppen later received an e-mail from Victor Wood, a former candidate for mayor and longtime city activist.
The e-mail questioned Ockunzzi's homestead exemption, called for an investigation, and asked that his e-mail be put on the next commission meeting agenda "for discussion."
Coppen replied to Wood that Ockunzzi had made a "poor attempt to political smear against me and that he (Coppen) "shall take the high road and not stoop to that level."
Coppen then referred the original e-mail and his reply to City Clerk Deanne O'Reilly.
O'Reilly, in turn, is instructing that homestead exemption complaints are outside the city's jurisdiction and should be made to the property appraiser.
"The whole thing is ridiculous. All we seem to do is fight," Wood said, adding that he does not plan to pursue the matter further.
Coppen could not be reached for comment.