Inverness, Florida -- A battle is on between Citrus County leaders and Progress Energy over unpaid property taxes.
Property taxes help pay for a county's programs, services, schools and jobs. In Citrus County, Progress Energy's portion makes up a quarter of the county's $156 million budget. But the company is disputing $15 million of its $35 million tax bill, leaving county leaders to look for the money elsewhere.
"To me, this is an impact on our kids and I'm not sure they [Progress Energy] care," says Citrus County Superintendent of Schools Sandra Himmel.
That impact on schools totals $8 million and is more than half of what Progress Energy owes in property taxes.
Himmel says the timing could not be any worse, because budgets have already been set and the loss will be devastating to the district. She goes on to say the district's goal is to prevent any layoffs, so instead there will most likely be an impact on existing programs, along with extracurricular activities.
Superintendent Himmel met with district administrators Wednesday afternoon and sent an email out to staff informing them the district will have to look at more budget cuts. She hopes to hold off on any changes until the next school year.
"We are assessing the entire budget and we'll look at transferring funds to help cover expenses for a few months," she says.
Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy says the unpaid property taxes will reduce the budget for fire rescue by $800,000 and lower the budget for law enforcement by $1.8 million.
"[Progress Energy] Duke Energy's decision to suddenly reduce its tax payment will directly impact the safety of Citrus County's citizens," said Sheriff Dawsy.
The sheriff will hold a press conference on Thursday where says he will explain how Progress Energy's actions endanger the county's seniors, children and businesses -- the entire community.
Spokesperson for Progress Energy Suzanne Grant tells 10 News the company feels the property appraiser incorrectly assessed the value of the property... specifically that he over-assessed the pollution control equipment on the property, along with the value of the Crystal River Nuclear Plant and two of the older coal plants.
Tax Collector Janice Warren says the good faith payment will stop any collection action against Progress Energy, but will in the meantime hurt Citrus residents.
Meanwhile, Progress Energy customers are angry saying they can't dispute the rate the company charges them.
"Can I choose not to pay my electric bill? What happens: they shut me off," says John Taylor, a taxpayer and Progress Energy customer.
Bonnie Jordan, also a taxpayer and Progress Energy customer , says, "If we give them as much money as we give them, why can't they pay their taxes? We still pay a fuel surcharge when the fuel came down [in cost]."
Grant's response to the power company's customers: "All taxpayers, whether it is an individual or a company, has the right to look at their assessment and challenge it if they feel it is unfair."
Taylor has this message for Progress Energy officials, "All the money they make, they better pay up!"
On Friday, Progress Energy officials say they will file a complaint in State Circuit Court to have a judge decide what's a fair property assessment. Meanwhile, Citrus County's Board of County Commissioners will hold an emergency meeting at 10 a.m. on Friday and the School Board will hold a meeting later that day at 2 p.m.
County leaders and school officials say they are scrambling to fill the financial hole Progress Energy has left.