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  PBA uses this blog to post individual articles from our monthly newsletters. Members can comment on these articles.
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  • 09/26/2017 9:35 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The public areas of Pensacola Beach, including the sandy beaches and access points, are and will remain public. No one disputes this.

    The leased parcels and homes are different. The Florida Supreme Court says the leaseholder own them. And because they are not public, no property tax exemption applies. The leaseholders must and do pay property tax. Yet, the deed conveying Pensacola Beach from the federal government lists the public as the owners. This tension suggests determining ownership is not simple.

    In 1946, the federal government authorized the conveyance of Santa Rosa Island to Escambia County. It directed Pensacola Beach be used for the “public interest” (as deemed by Escambia) and specifically permitted private leases. Soon after, the Santa Rosa Island Authority, began leasing parcels with the assurance that they were not subject to property tax because the government remained the title owner.

    Most leases on Pensacola Beach are for 99 years and are renewable. So long as leaseholders pay their annual lease, it’s their parcel to use, sell, and leave to heirs. Escambia can’t take them back. Accordingly, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the leaseholders, and not the public, hold “virtually all the benefits and burdens of ownership of both the improvements and the land.” Because they effectively own the property, they must pay property tax. The Court elevated substance over form—practical property rights over the name on the deed. As a result of this 2014 ruling, most leaseholders now pay both property tax and lease fees.

    The lease fees were originally designed as tax substitutes—when everyone expected the land to be tax-exempt. Today, they pay for services and events enjoyed by people throughout Escambia — Blue Angles’ show, Bands on the Beach, and beach renourishment.

    Leaseholders understandably want relief from this double taxation. They support pending federal legislation that would eliminate the leases and thereby the lease fees. It would allow the deeds to properly reflect who already owns the parcels.

    Also understandably, everyone fears overdevelopment and losing the open and accessible character that makes our beach special. We see the trends and don’t want our beach to go the way of Destin.

    But will the federal legislation actually cause this? Its text says nothing at all about development. While by definition private development requires private ownership, the Court says that’s how it is already. And the “save our beach” opposition has yet to explain why their protests are anything more than undifferentiated fear and speculation. Civic debate requires more than loudly forecasting the what-ifs. The opponents must also say how this legislation will actually cause the parade of horribles. Ideally, they should also propose alternative solutions to the double taxation — like eliminating lease fees?

    Worse, the “save our beach” opposition to the federal legislation dangerously misidentifies the real threat to preserving the beach we all love. County officials can already amend leases and the land use code to pave the way for overdevelopment. The federal legislation would give them no new powers. Indeed, it removes significant authority by requiring the preservation in perpetuity of Pensacola Beach’s public spaces. The law would prohibit county officials from putting a high-rise on the Casino Beach. And because all gulf front lots end at the dune line, our beach would never have a “no trespassing” sign and no access points will be lost.

    So, the threat is not beach residents being deeded the homes they already own. The real threat is a county’s amendment of our land use code or increase of the cap on the number of condo and houses above the current (and mostly used) 4,128 dwelling units.

    Let’s not be distracted by current or proposed federal laws. They will not save us. Instead, we must stay focused on ensuring our county officials continue to be good stewards and remain committed to a vision of the beach as a family-friendly, environmentally-focused mixture of residences and beaches and business open to all.

    This was  published as a Guestview in the Pensacola News Journal on Sept. 26, 2017. 

  • 08/11/2017 4:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Matt Gaetz’s proposed law will allow Pensacola Beach leaseholders to finally own their homes.  Opponents fear that this would cut off public access and use of the beach and result in over-development.  However, their fears are misguided.  This legislation poses no such threat.  It maintains the status quo.  So long as local official remain committed to a vision of the beach as a family-friendly, environmentally-focused mixture of residences and business, we have nothing to fear.

    Local officials currently govern beach development.  In 1947, the U.S. Government deeded the non-federal land on Santa Rosa Island to Escambia County.  It conditioned the conveyance of the land being used for the public interest (as deemed by Escambia) and specifically permitted private leases.  In this way, the federal government left beach development in the hands of local officials.  Opponents claim that the leaseholds prevent development.  This is wrong.  Public officials already have the power to change leases and the land use code.  The legislation gives them no new authority.

    Current public access and beaches will forever remain publicThe legislation requires the “preserv[ation] in perpetuity [of] the areas ... dedicated for conservation, preservation, public recreation access, and public parking.”  That is Pensacola Beach’s beach and access points will forever be public.  This would prohibit Escambia from later deciding to lease these public spaces and convert them for private use.  Although the legislation permits Santa Rosa to lease its public land, that is no different than how it is today.  Both Santa Rosa and Escambia already have the authority to lease land currently reserved for public use.

    Beach residents, like county residents, want to preserve beach access and public use.  Unlike most of Florida, the private property line on Pensacola Beach ends at the dune, not the high-tide water line.  And the vast majority of beach residents do not have gulf-front property, but want to be able to access and enjoy the vast public beaches.  They too want to preserve the low-density, residential areas of the beach.

    Beach residents deserve fair tax treatment. In 2014, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that beach leaseholders enjoy “virtually all the benefits and burdens of ownership of both the improvements and the land.”  Because they effectively own the property, they must pay property tax.  However, unlike a fee simple property owner, they must also pay lease fees originally designed as a tax substitute.  The pending federal law would eliminate leaseholds and this double payment.

    The Navarre Pass requires federal government approval.  The federal law does not address the Navarre Pass.  The law will neither prohibit nor permit reestablishing it.  Instead, the Pass's authorization continues to depend on several federal agencies signing off, including the Air Force.  But because they all oppose it, the Navarre Pass is unlikely to happen. 

    We all share a common desire to preserve the Pensacola Beach we all love.  Instead of being divided over a law granting ownership to leaseholders, we should unite to ensure our local government continues to be a good stewards.

    This was substantially published as a Guestview in the Pensacola News Journal on Aug. 12, 2017. 


  • 07/27/2017 4:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Meet Meg the Mermaid or take the Sea Turtle Oath at the Sea Turtle Baby Shower, Saturday, August 12th from 2 to 5 p.m. at Pensacola Beach’s Landshark Landing. It’s a celebration of Pensacola Beach’s sea turtles. Learn about the mama turtle who returns to her birth place, Pensacola Beach, to lay her nest and the tiny hatchlings who emerge and head for the Gulf of Mexico. Make your own sea turtle ornament and touch a real turtle shell. There will be contests, games, performances, educational kiosks, give-aways, art vendors and a prize basket drawing. The event will take place at Landshark Landing, which is located on Fort Pickens Road on the Margaritaville Beach Hotel property.  

    If all the fun makes you thirsty, stop by the water booth to purchase a Turtles Dig the Dark souvenir reusable cup filled with ice cold water. Proceeds benefit the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center.

    The event is sponsored by the Pensacola Beach Advocates, Holiday Inn Express, Margaritaville Beach Hotel and Emerald Coast Utilities Authority.

    EVENT SCHEDULE

    2:00    Opening ceremony, Sea Turtle Oath; All Booths, Games, Vendors Open

    2:30    1-2-3 Nest Youth Challenge

    3:00    Meg the Mermaid

    3:30    1-2-3 Nest Celebrity Challenge

    4:00    DJ's Baby Bath Clean Water demo

    4:30    Sea Turtle Survivor

    5:00    Closing Ceremonies; All Booths, Games, Vendors Close


  • 05/26/2017 9:39 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Senators Nelson & Rubio requested Senate committees take up and report to the full Senate S.1073 (2017).  The bill would permit leaseholders on Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach to obtain fee simple title to their land.  https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/1073  It mirrors a companion bill in the U.S. House, proposed by Rep. Gaetz.  https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2370


  • 03/02/2017 11:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Mark your calendars! Beachkeepers will be hosting the 3rd annual Eco Happy Hour on Thursday, March 9th. The event will be held in the fellowship hall at the Beach Church from 4 to 6 pm.

    Come sip and socialize and enjoy eco friendly information along with tips on how to protect our beach and preserve it's wildlife. The line-up of presenters include: 


    -SRIA
    -ECUA
    -Florida Sea Grant
    -Keep Pensacola Beautiful
    -Ocean Hour
    -National Park Service
    -Florida Audobon
    -Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center

    Show up : Receive rafffle tickets just for your eco-awareness
    Recycle : Bring in your Mardi Gras beads and receive additional raffle tickets
    Test your knowledge : Take our Eco Quiz and be entered to win a 1 night stay on beautiful Pensacola Beach
    Beach clean up : Gather some beach litter and be entered to win a 2 night stay from Resort Quest




  • 09/18/2016 7:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Pensacola Beach Advocates will hold our annual meeting on October 13 2016, at the Pensacola Beach Community Church starting at 6:30 pm.

    The agenda will include the following:

    • Board Elections for three positions. If you are interested in serving on the PBA Board as an officer or as a director, please contact Benjamin Stevenson by email box353+PBA@gmail.com. The board only meets a few times a year and much business is done by email.
    • Attorney Ed Flemming will discuss lawsuits challenging ad valorem taxation of beach properties.
    • Paolo Ghio, Executive Director, will provide an update on current work and projects of the Santa Rosa Island Authority (SRIA)

    Please plan to attend. We will be accepting checks for membership dues at the meeting. Any checks or payment received after September 1st of this year will be applied to the following year


  • 09/01/2016 7:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    PBA is looking for a volunteer communication specialist to provide website updates, work with webmaster, communicate with membership, and manage PBA Facebook and other social media accounts.  If you are interested in helping the PBA or know someone who is, please contact Benjamin Stevenson by email box353+PBA@gmail.com

  • 08/15/2016 9:18 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Melissa Nelson Gabriel, PNJ.com

    Less than a year after cutting annual lease fees in half for Pensacola Beach residents and businesses, the Santa Rosa Island Authority is considering hiking the fees to make up for potential lost revenue from an ongoing property tax dispute.

    At issue is the complex system of lease agreements created by the county since the late 1940s to allow development on the barrier island, which was deeded to the county by the federal government after World War II. Under the deed agreement, the county was prohibited from selling Pensacola Beach land outright. To promote development, the county entered into thousands of 99-year lease agreements with people wanting to live or open businesses on the beach.

    County tax appraisers later began to assesses property taxes on the beach leaseholders. The move promoted a series of lawsuits over several decades questioning whether the lease holders could be taxed for property that is leased and, technically, not owned.

    In the latest court case, an appeals court overturned a decision by a lower court judge. The appeal court's decision meant that the county could not collect taxes on 12 acres of land where two Portofino Resort towers are scheduled to be built. The Florida Supreme Court recently declined to the county's request to hear the case. The decision governed taxes on the actual land and not on structures built on the land.

    The case hinged on language in the lease agreement stating it would not be automatically renewed after 99 years. Other leases state that the agreements will be automatically renewed after 99 years.

    Since the ruling, Chris Jones, Escambia County tax appraiser, said his staff has reviewed more than 4,500 lease agreements and determined that about half of the agreements are not automatically renewable. The county will not assess taxes on land leased to those lease holders in its upcoming notice of proposed taxes, he said. The land that will not be taxed represents about $80 million in assessed property value, which translates into about $1.2 million in tax revenue that would have been split between the county and the Escambia County School district, Jones said.

    The ruling does not affect the proposed tax assessments for unit owners in about 26 condo buildings on the beach because a court case involving condominiums is still pending in the courts, Jones said. Homeowners associations for many of the condominiums are expected to file separate lawsuits this fall questioning the property tax system on the beach.

    At a meeting of the Santa Rosa Island Authority last week, commission chairman Dave Pavlock suggested that the SRIA might need to raise lease fees in the future to make up for the lost revenue.

    In October, the island authority cut lease fees in half for most commercial and residential leaseholders. The move came after Escambia County took over public works and public safety operations on the island, which meant the authority no longer had to cover those expenses with lease fees. But Pavlock said the loss to county coffers because of the tax case could potentially affect services on Pensacola Beach. The Island Authority might need to make up for the lost revenue by raising lease fees, he said.

    "The decision we will have to face as a board is whether to look at reestablishing the fees that we cut," he said.

    Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson, whose district includes Pensacola Beach, said uncertainty over beach tax revenue has created a difficult situation for county financial planners.

    "Right now, the county is reacting to whatever happens in the courts. The board (of county commissioners) is not involved in the lawsuit in any way but we are the ones that have to deal with ramifications," he said. "It is extremely difficult when you don't know how you are going to drive the revenues needed to provide necessary services."

    To see the original article, click here.



  • 07/28/2016 3:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Escambia County will host a public workshop Thursday, July 28 from 5:30 - 7 p.m. to provide information and gather input for the planned improvements scheduled for the Quietwater Beach Pier, which is one of the three ferry landing sites for the Pensacola Bay Ferry Passenger Service expected to begin March 2017. The workshop will take place at the Santa Rosa Island Authority Office board meeting room, located at 1 Via De Luna Drive on Pensacola Beach.

    County staff will be available to answer questions from citizens, and project consultant Hatch Mott MacDonald will provide phase I concept displays, information and public comment forms. District 4 Commissioner and Chairman Grover Robinson will also attend the workshop to speak about the project.


  • 07/22/2016 1:57 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Island Resorts v. Jones beach land case has officially concluded with Florida Supreme Court refusing to grant a rehearing on the case.  To read the detailed press release from the law firm of McDonald, Fleming, Moorhead and Robert Rinke, click here:  Taxcase-press release.pdf

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