As you know, all our Pensacola Beach properties are leased from the County. Everyone else in the County owns their property, called fee-simple ownership. If the Florida Supreme Court rules that our land and leasehold improvements are subject to ad-valorem taxation, then the Escambia County has committed to provide fee-simple title to Beach leaseholder, so we will have a title just like all other Escambia citizens and businesses. However, since the original deed from the U. S. government contains restrictions on Escambia County’s ability to transfer title to any land on Pensacola Beach, it will literally require an act of Congress to change the original deed.
In August, U. S. Representative Jeff Miller introduced “HR 2954”, a bill to allow Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties to make fee-simple title available to leaseholders. A sponsor for the Senate is still needed to get the legislation into that chamber’s agenda. The process in Congress will probably take two or three years.
So IF the Florida Supreme Court rules against the leaseholders and says both the land and improvements are subject to ad-valorem taxation, and IF both houses of Congress pass legislation, leaseholders should be able to obtain fee-simple title to their property. The draft Federal legislation includes a provision saying that any profit the County makes on the transfer of fee-simple title would revert to the Federal government. The County’s current intention is that they would transfer title with just an administrative fee.
There have been several editorials in the Pensacola News Journal raising the question of whether fee-simple title will allow privatization of our beautiful beaches. The draft legislation specifically says “Escambia County and Santa Rosa County shall in perpetuity preserve those area on Santa Rosa Island currently dedicated to conservation, preservation, public, recreation, access and public parking..”
So our beautiful 8 miles of public beaches and all the other great public parking and access will be preserved.
PBA worked with the staff of Escambia County and Santa Rosa County on the language of the draft legislation, and we are please to see it finally move forward.