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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Apr. 27, 2022 7 months ago

River Bend Golf Club: Who owes the taxes?

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Also in City Watch: OBPD to participate in the national Drug Take Back initiative this Saturday.
by: Jarleene Almenas Senior Editor

For almost four years, the city of Ormond Beach and the Volusia County Property Appraiser have been at odds over taxes owed by River Bend Golf Club.

And while the ongoing litigation is currently on hold while a local circuit judge awaits on the resolution of a similar case in the panhandle, both the city and the property appraiser have dug in their heels on the matter.

When the case was first filed in court, the property appraiser argued that the city owed $240,848 in unpaid taxes, which began to be assessed in 2013 — unbeknownst to the city of Ormond Beach, according to City Attorney Randy Hayes.

That is, until 2018, when the city submitted an ECHO grant application and was made aware of the tax issue. In an email to the Observer, Hayes said that the property appraiser never sent a tax notice to the city, instead sending them to the lessee of the golf course. While River Bend was privately operated at the time (the golf club closed in 2020), the city owns the land.

Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett said city land is considered tax exempt — unless it’s leased to a for-profit company.

“I think it’s too bad that it’s happened at all,” Bartlett said. “But we have to protect the taxpayers and do our job. It’s unfortunate the city is fighting this, but they know they owe the taxes.”

Upon seeing that the property appraiser was “entrenched” in his position that the city owed the taxes, wrote Hayes, the city filed an action for declaratory relief to seek legal clarification on the validity of a 1997 final judgment that established a tax exemption for the golf course, and to identify the party responsible for the tax.

“Rather than wait on an answer to those two questions, the PA filed suit against the city in an effort to compel the city to pay the private tax debt that is allegedly owed by the lessee of the golf course, a tax debt that the PA never provided notice to the city about, never asked the lessee to pay, and never sued the lessee to collect,” Hayes wrote.

Since then, assessed taxes have grown to over $288,000. The city has spent over $340,000 in outside legal fees, which were paid from the insurance and litigation fund, not the general fund. Bartlett said his office has spent nothing on outside legal fees.

He added that the 1997 judgment was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013, and that’s when and why the exemption went away, and that the city as the underlying owner of the property is the one that has to pay the taxes.

But Hayes argued that if a tax is owed, then it must be collected by the lessee of the golf club, and not the city.

“By law, the city cannot use public money to pay a private debt – and that is why the city cannot simply pay taxes that are allegedly owed by the former lessee (whether or not taxes are owed is also in dispute),” Hayes wrote.

He also questioned why the property appraiser, who has been a constitutional officer since January 2020, uses county legal department resources  for the lawsuit.

Bartlett said that his office is confident the judge will rule in their favor. At this point, he doesn’t think there is a way to meet in the middle, but added that he hopes the issue is resolved soon “because it uses up city and county resources that could be best applied elsewhere.”

Bartlett also said there are other ways the city could pay the tax, alluding to funds being withheld. 

“The city of Ormond Beach has now applied to the county for a $600,000 ECHO grant,” he said. “Well, that’s one way that the city could take care of its obligation to pay taxes, but it shouldn’t have to come down to that. The city just should do the right thing.”

Drug take back initiative

The Ormond Beach Police Department will be participating in the 2022 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration initiative on from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 30 at the Ormond Beach Police Department lobby, located at 170 W. Granada Blvd.

The public may bring their expired, unwanted or unused pharmaceutically-controlled substances and medication to law enforcement for proper destruction.

The Volusia Sheriff’s Office is also participating. Drop off your prescription medication at 1435 U.S. 1, suite D-3 in Ormond Beach from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Emergency rental assistance portal

Applications for Volusia County’s Emergency Rental Assistance program will be accepted beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 4.

Eligible households may receive up to nine months of rental and utility arrears and three months of forward assistance, according to a county press release. The funds are left over from a previous federal grant that was not used in its entirety.

The application portal will remain open until current funding has been depleted. Visit volusia.org/era.

Volusia Forever asks for proposals

Volusia Forever, which finances the acquisition and improvement of environmentally-sensitive, water resource protection, working forests, farmlands and outdoor recreation lands is accepting proposals through May 15. Sellers who wish for their properties to be considered should visit volusia.org/forever

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