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Council member didn't pay tax

For three years, Zephyrhills' newest council member has failed to pay his city property taxes.

By CHASE SQUIRES and BRADY DENNIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001


The newest member of Zephyrhills' City Council, Michael M. Bussell, has found a way to keep city property taxes from eating into his wallet, county records show.

He doesn't pay them.

For the past three years, Bussell has not paid the property taxes that fund the city he helps run, according to records in the office of Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Olson.

He also was sued in Circuit Court this week for foreclosure on the same property when the lender claimed Bussell had not made a payment in a year.

Tax Collector's Office records show Bussell did not pay $41 in property taxes he owed on a Lincoln Avenue home he owns for the 1998 tax year. Then he skipped the $230.06 he owed Zephyrhills for the 1999 tax year. And as of March 31, he is overdue on the $229.56 he owes for the year 2000.

He also owes the county $1,907.36 in back property taxes for the same years.

Bussell said he is embarrassed by the financial woes and will pay the tab as soon as he can.

"This has hit me blind side," he said Thursday. "Do you think I would have run for City Council if I'd have known all this was going to come out? Absolutely not."

According to county records, the Lincoln Avenue home is the only property he owns in the county. He rents the Zephyrhills home he shares with his wife.

Bussell, who makes $400 a month as a councilman, said Thursday he hasn't had the money to pay the taxes.

He said he got into financial trouble shortly after he had bought the Lincoln Avenue home from William Oparowski, who agreed to carry the mortgage.

Bussell said he was unable to work because of a disability starting in 1998, and he sold off his shipping business.

Debts mounted, but Bussell said he was unwilling to boot tenants out of the rental property when they couldn't pay, and without their money, he couldn't pay the mortgage or the taxes.

It all came back to bite him this year when Oparowski demanded his money, Bussell said.

He said he didn't report rental property income on financial disclosure forms when he signed up to run for City Council because he wasn't being paid the rent, and he didn't list the house as an asset because he already knew the foreclosure was coming.

Bussell said Oparowski foreclosed to embarrass him.

Oparowski said that's not true.

"I just want my money," Oparowski said. "Money is money. It's business."

Bussell said he would give the house back, but Oparowski said he doesn't want the house; he wants to be paid the $47,104 he is owed for the house.

According to the county, investors have already bought Bussell's property tax debt and paid the city and the county for 1998 and 1999. Now he owes them the money, plus interest.

Court records show Bussell also was ordered last year in small claims court to pay $5,295 in credit card debt, interest and court costs. That was a business debt, not a personal one, he said.

But Bussell, who took office April 12, said he has received calls of support and said he won't let the embarrassment derail his term on the council.

"I'm going to do my job as councilman, just as I was elected to do," Bussell said. "I don't spend the city's money; all I do is make recommendations. It's a consensus of five people, not one.

"I don't foresee a problem," he said. "And if there was one, I would recuse myself. It's something that's a fact. I'm not trying to hide it. All I'm doing is going on with my life."

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