New Port Richey, Florida -- Pinellas County is refusing to pay property taxes for two years, amounting to more than $100,000, on a well field and ranch it owns in northern Pasco County. And while it won't pay its property tax bill, it pays hundreds of thousands to one man to manage the property.
The property in question is the Cross Bar Ranch which has well fields that help supply water to our area through Tampa Bay Water. A 2012 audit shows the Cross Bar Ranch has lost $1.9 million in the past 12 years. Part of the reason could be what it pays Albert Roller to manage the property.
Roller wouldn't come to the gate when we first reported on Cross Bar three years ago and we had to talk to him through a speaker box. We told him we were surprised how much it costs the taxpayers to maintain the property.
"Well there is a lot more to it than it looks like," he replied.
Pinellas pay Roller $363,000 a year plus expenses which can run his fee to more than a half a million. Other well fields use volunteers to maintain the property. However, taxpayers in Pinellas County have been paying Roller the huge fees since the 90s.
Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano says the situation with Cross Bar is wild, but he isn't talking about Roller's salary.
Fasano is talking about a letter from Pinellas County which says the county is no longer in a position to pay property taxes and adds it doesn't have to.
"All of a sudden Pinellas County is saying they are immune from paying taxes which is absolutely untrue," Fasano argues.
Pinellas County points to a Florida Supreme Court ruling which exempts counties from paying property taxes. However, Pasco maintains if the property is in a different county, as Cross Bar is, the ruling doesn't apply. Pasco also points to the fact Pinellas has paid thousands of dollars in taxes in the past.
Fasano says if the county won't pay, the Cross Bar Ranch property could be sold at auction on the courthouse steps adding, "One way or another Pasco County citizens are going to get the money that is owed them."
But before Pasco County gets its money, it looks like this is an issue that will end up with the two counties suing each other. This is likely to end up in the Florida Supreme Court where Pasco will point to the fact Pinellas has been paying the taxes for years.
Pinellas maintains it did it on a voluntary basis and really didn't have to.