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  PBA uses this blog to post individual articles from our monthly newsletters. Members can comment on these articles.
  • 04/03/2014 8:30 AM | Anonymous
    In a letter to the Pensacola Beach Tax Case Liaison Committee, attorney Danny Kepner says:

    In accordance with the decision of the majority of the Committee on Friday, I will be filing a motion in the Florida Supreme Court for clarification of the March 20, 2014 ruling. Under court rules, such a motion must be filed no later than Friday, April 4, 2014.

    Filing such a motion will suspend the finality of the March 20th ruling until the Court rules on our motion. Once we have filed it, the opposing attorneys will have 10 days within which to file a response.

    The focus of the motion will be the fact that the Court has indicated some of your leases provide for perpetual renewals, but has given no guidance as to which leases are in that category. Since we still have cases pending related to taxation of the land on Pensacola Beach (2011 and 2012) this needs to be clarified. 

    While the odds may be against us in obtaining the clarification, the Liasison Committee and our firm believe the potential benefit justifies this effort.

    Once the Court rules on this motion, all of our clients will be required to pay all of the unpaid tax on improvements (plus 12% simple interest) for years 2004 - 2012 within 30 days of the ruling, failing which, interest on all unpaid balances will increase to 18% per annum. We anticipate that a ruling on this motion would come within the next 6-8 weeks, but cannot predict the timing with certainty.

    Very truly yours



    The two opinions may be found here:

    1108 Ariola v. Jones (Pensacola Beach improvements):  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2014/sc11-2231.pdf

    Accardo v. Brown (Navarre Beach land and improvements): http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2014/sc11-1445.pdf

  • 04/01/2014 8:02 PM | Anonymous
    This article was published in the printed March 2014 newsletter sent to all residential and commercial leaseholders.

    • Worked with County and Congressman Jeff Miller to draft “Fee Simple Title” legislation to be ready in case of leaseholders losing tax litigation.
    • Kept our members updated on beach tax litigation. We notified everyone in our contact list about Tax deadlines and the Supreme Court decision the day the opinion was issued.
    • Acted as a “watchdog” in the SRIA’s annual budgeting process to assure that residential lease rates would not be increased.  This saved PB residential leaseholders $250,000 for the fourth year in a row. This may have saved you 10% per year increase in your lease fees .
    • Worked with Escambia County and beach businesses to pass a new Noise Ordinance that restricts noise levels in residential neighborhoods.
    • Helped draft a Sea Turtle Lighting Ordinance that was passed by Escambia County.  This will gradually darken the light footprint on the island to help protect nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings. It also puts Pensacola Beach in compliance with new FL Dept of Environmental Protection rules, thus allowing for sand re-nourishment of our eroding beaches.
    • Sponsored annual Earth Day Island Style event with sea turtle education, recycling, free document shredding and a community yard sale.  
    • Worked with the Tourism Board to set up an independent Visit Pensacola board to better market the Pensacola Area with the millions of dollars each year from the Bed Tax.
    • Collaborated with Pensacola Beach Chamber to propose beach projects to Escambia County RESTORE Committee for spending BP Oil Spill dollars coming to Escambia County. 
    • Worked with the SRIA to get a special $500,000 BP grant to buy the Eco-Tourism Trail signage throughout the Beach and fund advertising to promote the Beach in the shoulder seasons.
    • Notified members about potential BP claims available to some homes.
    • Worked with the local community to stop a trashy reality show from filming on Pensacola Beach this Spring.


    Please consider joining if you are not a member. Visit www.pbadvocates.org/join  

  • 04/01/2014 7:58 PM | Anonymous

    In a pair of unanimous opinions issued on March 20, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court approved of the county’s assessment and collection of ad valorem real property taxes for certain leaseholds on Santa Rosa Island.  The Court found that Pensacola Beach leaseholders have “virtually all the benefits and burdens of ownership.” This effectively makes them the private owners subject to property taxation.  The cases largely put to rest the decades long debate over beach leasehold taxes. Visit our website for more information and links to the two recent court opinions.

    With these rulings, the tax collector will soon begin efforts to collect any outstanding property taxes.  The beach leaseholders’ lawyers will seek a reasonable grace period before enforcement efforts begin and try to negotiate the assessed interest payments.  The lawyers will also consider and advise us whether they will seek a rehearing by the Florida Supreme Court or whether they will continue to challenge the assessment of taxes on the land (the Court’s decision specifically address Pensacola Beach improvements and not land taxes).  However, to avoid additional interest accruing or the sale of tax deeds, Pensacola Beach leaseholders should consult with tax professionals and prepare to pay any outstanding real property taxes due.  And as the lawsuit challenging the 2013 taxes was late and likely will be dismissed, everyone should pay their 2013 property taxes by the March 31, deadline.

    With these rulings, Pensacola Beach Advocates will invigorate its efforts to ensure Pensacola Beach leaseholders are not subject to a de facto double taxundefined from real property taxes and lease fees.  We will work to eliminate the lease fees and obtain refunds of past double payments.  We will talk to local leaders and continue to push the U.S. Senate to pass legislation like the Public Access and Lands Improvement Act (H.R. 2954) that would allow leaseholders to purchase their land fee simple, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 6, 2014. 

    Attend the PBA Town Hall meeting on April 14th to learn more.

    The two opinions may be found here:

    1108 Ariola v. Jones (Pensacola Beach improvements):  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2014/sc11-2231.pdf

    Accardo v. Brown (Navarre Beach land and improvements): http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2014/sc11-1445.pdf



     

  • 03/25/2014 10:02 AM | Anonymous

    A Country Music Television reality TV show was planning to film on Pensacola Beach for two months during Spring Break. At first it sounded like a great way to bring jobs and showcase our. When we first heard about the show,  PBA did some research and talked with people from Murrell’s Inlet, a small community in South Carolina where CMT filmed "Party Down South" last year. The more we learned, the less impressed we were. It turns out that "Party Down South" is a trash reality show with excessive drinking, nudity, profanity and just bad behavior.

    We asked SRIA to add the show to a committee meeting. The Board listened to our concerns. Even though they didn't have a legal way to prevent the show from coming to the beach, they  did send a strong letter saying that all local laws and ordinances would be strictly enforced.

    It was amazing how quickly the community came together - PBA, the SRIA, county commissioner Grover Robinson, Gulf Breeze and Pensacola communities and many Beach businesses. The community sent a very clear message to 495 Productions that they were not welcome on Pensacola Beach. Within a week the issue came and went. Thanks to Innisfree Hotels for taking a stand. Their refusal to rent rooms to the entire cast probably had the most impact.

    You can thank all the businesses who took a stand and said our image was more important than the money - by spending your money on the beach this Spring and Summer.

     

  • 03/20/2014 12:35 PM | Anonymous

    Today, March 20th, the Florida Supreme court ruled against the leaseholders on Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach, and ruled that both the land and improvements of the leased properties are subject to ad-valorem taxes.

    For leaseholders, this means that all unpaid property taxes and interest will be payable.  Leaseholders are reminded to pay their 2013 real estate taxes by March 31st to avoid penalties.

    PBA will work with Escambia County officials and the Santa Rosa Island Authority to resolve the issues that will now need to be addressed, including the elimination of lease fees, refunds of lease fees paid while we were “double taxed”, and the future of the SRIA.

    If you want to read the rulings, go to www.floridasupremecourt.org and click on Case SC11-2231, the Pensacola Beach ( Ariola) case involving taxation of leased improvements, and Case SC11-1445, the Navarre Beach (Ricardo)case involving taxation of leased land.

  • 02/26/2014 11:36 AM | Anonymous

    March 3, 2014 Update: This reality show is not coming to stay or film on Pensacola Beach. Thanks to SRIA Board Chair Tammy Bohannon and our County Commissioner Grover Robinson for taking a stand on this. And thanks to the greater Pensacola community and the businesses on the beach who took a stand.

    The Board of Directors of PBA wants to make our members and the beach community aware of a trashy reality show that is considering Pensacola Beach for filming this Spring. Apparently the producers of "Party Down South" have been in discussions and negotiations with various entities in our community, but it has all been kept very quiet.  The first season was filmed in a quaint beach community much like ours -- Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina -- and it was a very unfortunate experience for residents, locals and tourists alike.

    "Party Down South" is a trashy, sordid show featuring eight young adults who drink and bed hop to excess while in front of the camera, and who were reported to have been verbally abusive and offensive in restaurants as well as to residents. It is in our opinion that a reality show like this will do nothing but damage our community's image. It will not  reflect well on the upscale family oriented community that we truly are on the beach, and in fact, is polar opposite to a community that supports a nationally honored and recognized elementary school. 

    Over the past 20 years, the Greater Pensacola area to include Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach, has been diligently working to court businesses to bring jobs to boost our economy beyond tourism. Again, it is in our opinion that being associated with a show like this could derail any such future development. A temporary economic gain that hosting a show like this allegedly brings to a community could result in a tremendous loss in the long run.

    One of our board members contacted  the County Councilman who represents Murrell Inlet in Georgetown County. Councilman Jerry Oakley shared that "the crew and cast of 'Party Down South' turned their small beach community into a six week living nightmare." When the producers of "Party Down South" asked permission to return to Murrells Inlet, the answer was "no" and Georgetown County now has a very protective filming ordinance, not just for Murrells Inlet but for the entire county.

    We ask that you do your research on this show, the cast and the crew. We have provided a multitude of links and you can come to your own conclusion.

    Local reporter Kimberly Blair has written two articles in the "Pensacola News Journal "this week.

    http://www.pnj.com/article/20140225/NEWS09/302250008/Kimberly-Blair-Party-Down-South-eyes-Pensacola-Beach-for-sordid-reality-show

    http://www.pnj.com/article/20140226/NEWS09/302260016/Raunchy-reality-show-Party-Down-bound-for-Pensacola-Beach?nclick_check=1

    If you are curious as to the content and advertising regarding the show, here is the website for the CMT reality show  – also known as “The Dirty South”.

    http://www.cmt.com/show/party-down-south/series.jhtml

    Here is a link to a Facebook Page that was created by the community of Murrell’s Inlet to document how bad this was.

    http://www.facebook.com/refused.reality.release

    Read this page and also the links to other article that were written by the local press in South Carolina, including a most recent development about one of the cast members being arrested for theft.

    http://m.myrtlebeachonline.com/?cu=spreed%3A%2F5851085%2F27891233

    http://www.weeklysurge.com/2014/01/15/3960528/party-down-south-goes-head-to.html

    http://www.wbtw.com/story/24438794/murrells-inlet-tv-show-party-down-south-to-debut-wednesday

    http://www.wbtw.com/story/22972326/controversey-heats-up-over-reality-show-filming-in-murrells-inlet

    http://www.coastalobserver.com/articles/2013/080813/1.html

    http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/cmt-whores-itself-with-new-party-down-south-show

    http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/2013/12/20/3915353/party-down-south-reality-show.html#storylink=cpy

    http://m.myrtlebeachonline.com/?cu=spreed%3A%2F5851085%2F27891233

    A Facebook Page started today for people in Pensacola to post their concerns

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Locals-Against-Party-Down-South-in-Pensacola/708000069252398

     

  • 02/17/2014 8:15 AM | Anonymous

    All Pensacola Beach leaseholders who are a party to residential ad-valorem tax litigation should have received a letter dated January 30, 2014 from the law firm Shell, Fleming, Davis and Menge regarding 2013 property taxes and the ongoing beach taxation lawsuit.  In short, our attorney failed to file the 2013 lawsuit in time.  Their report details actions that leaseholders must take to preserve their rights in the prior suits from 2004-2012.  Please read the letter and plan to take action ASAP to preserve your rights in the suits filed from 2004-2012. 

    Another letter was sent on February 14, 2014 to all members of the lawsuit regarding "Waiver of Conflict of Interest for Continual Representation". If you think you are a party to the lawsuits (2004 - 2012) and did not receive either or both of these letters, please contact the law office at 850-453-1074.

    View the Jan 30th Letter

    View the Feb 14th Letter

    Look up your current and past tax bills on Escambia County Tax Collector website

    Visit the Beach Taxation Litigation Website (not updated with this info yet)
  • 02/07/2014 9:35 AM | Anonymous

    Missed deadline, big headache for Pensacola Beach residents

    Some residents got the bad news this week that they may have to pay property taxes

    from pnj.com 2/7/14. Article by Kimberly Blair

    Pensacola Beach leaseholders who are plaintiffs in one of several lawsuits challenging the legality of paying taxes on improvements on their land or on their vacant lot were dealt a blow this week.

    Their attorney, Danny Kepner with the Shell, Fleming, Davis & Menge law firm, notified them he missed an important deadline undefined by one week undefined on Dec. 6. The deadline was for refiling the lawsuit that’s been ongoing since 2004.

    That caused the 2013 lawsuit to be dismissed.

    And plaintiffs who have been withholding paying taxes because of the lawsuit must pay their 2013 taxes by the end of the business day on March 31, leaving some leaseholders scrambling to each come up with $2,000 or more by the deadline.

    “I made a mistake,” Kepner said. “We know we have a ­60-day deadline from the day the property appraiser certifies the tax roll. It’s a requirement of the law we met nine straight years.”

    Kepner explained that late last year he looked at the date on a website, noted the date and was off by one week, causing him to file the lawsuit on Dec. 13.

    He’s strongly encouraging his clients to pay their taxes so as to not jeopardize claims in previous lawsuits.

    Kepner’s law firm is one of several representing residential and commercial beach leaseholders contesting the ­taxes that Escambia County Property Appraiser Chris Jones is assessing on the improvements on their leased property or on the land.

    The firm represents the largest group of plaintiffs who hold leases on 2,147 properties as of 2012, Escambia County Tax Collector Janet Holley said.

    Plaintiffs drop off and sign on to the lawsuit each year, so it’s unclear exactly how many would have been part of the 2013 lawsuit had it not been dismissed, Kepner said.

    His office sent letters about the mistake to leaseholders of roughly 2,007 pieces of beach property.

    But based on 2012 records, Holley said, of the 2,147 properties, 554 leaseholders withheld payment of their taxes and 1,593 paid.

    The value of the unpaid taxes is $2.1 million, she said. Taxes paid by plaintiffs totaled $5.4 million.

    Kepner said he also missed the deadline on another 97 undeveloped properties that are part of a lawsuit filed in 2011.

    Of those, $110,000 worth of taxes was not paid on 65 vacant lots and $229,000 worth of taxes was paid on 32 vacant lots in 2012, Holley said.

    Jim Cox, who recently moved from Pensacola Beach, has fully paid his taxes on the primary residence and several investment properties he sold on the beach in 2013.

    He has been a client of Kepner’s in the taxation lawsuits since 2004.

    He pointed out that the full impact of the missed deadline won’t be known until the Florida Supreme Court rules on the beach tax issue.

    The ruling is expected any day.

    “If the Supreme Court rules either the land or the improvements are not subject to taxes, that will have an impact on the people,” he said.

    Such a ruling could pave the way for people who are part of lawsuits and paid taxes between 2004 and 2013 to receive refunds, depending on what the judges decide, Cox said.

    But none of Kepner’s clients are qualified for refunds for their 2013 taxes.

    And more troubling, people who miss the March 31 deadline for paying their 2013 taxes will suffer the greatest losses.

    They will be dismissed from all lawsuits they’ve been party to dating back to 2004.

    “If the Supreme Court rules in favor of leaseholders (not upholding taxation) they will have lost their right to recoup their taxes,” Cox said.

    Terry Preston, president of Pensacola Beach Advocates, said she and most people she knows have been paying their taxes to avoid a 12 percent annual fee that will be tacked on to back taxes should the Supreme Court uphold taxation.

    She described the law firm’s mistake is a tragedy.

    “We’ve had such good service from them, and they’ve been right on top of things,” she said. “It’s too bad.”

    Cox is worried Kepner’s mistake could lead to malpractice lawsuits.

    “Me personally, my heart goes out to him,” Cox said. “He’s been very good about being upfront and taking the blame. He’s a good soldier. I feel bad for him because he’s fought this for nine years, and because of a clerical error, if the Supreme Court rules the land and improvements are not taxable, some people will suffer.”

    Follow Kimnberly Blair at twitter.com/kblairPNJ or facebook

    .com/kimberlyblairpnj.
  • 02/07/2014 9:26 AM | Anonymous
    On September 9, 2013 we posted a blog article about HR 2954, a bill introduced by Jeff Miller to make fee-simple titles available to leaseholders on Santa Rosa Island. The PBA has been pushing the local and state officials to avoid double taxation situation that we are currently facing. View 9/9/13 blog article.

    On February 7th, the Pensacola News Journal reported that the US House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday that would allow residents of Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach on Santa Rosa Island to secure titles to their leasehold land and pay property taxes on it. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, now heads to the Senate. Please note that the PBA's position on the concerns voiced by the opposition to this bill abut giving away "public lands" are incorrect.

    Read actual House Bill

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Shown below is the article from 2/7/13 PNJ.

    House: Santa Rosa Island leaseholders can get titles to land

    Feb 7, 2014 - PNJ.com Kimberly Blair and Ledyard King

    WASHINGTON undefined The House approved a bill Thursday that would allow residents of Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach on Santa Rosa Island to secure titles to their leasehold land and pay property taxes on it.

    The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, now heads to the Senate, where White House concerns about access to public lands could scuttle its chances.

    The measure was requested by officials from Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Miller’s bill would remove restrictions in the original 1947 deed barring Escambia County from issuing titles to land on Santa Rosa Island.

    “This is a simple solution to a very important property rights issue in northwest Florida,” Miller said on the House floor before Thursday’s 220-194 vote as part of a larger bill involving several tracts of public land around the country.

    Miller called it a “fairness issue.” He said the legislation would permit lease holders the option of attaining fee-simple title to their property “while also protecting current agreements governing conservation, preservation, public access and recreation.”

    In addition, the measure would help ease management of Santa Rosa Island by allowing conveyance of certain land currently owned by Escambia to the island, Miller said.

    The measure drew opposition from the Obama administration and some Democrats who are concerned the changes would revive a once-discussed proposal to reopen the Navarre Pass.

    Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva said removing long-standing restrictions could cause access issues and potential damage to the barrier island’s resources.

    “This land is public land, not land to give away, then to be dredged and used for a harbor for potential windfall profit,” he said.

    Miller called those reports “absolutely incorrect” and disputed Grijalva’s characterization as anti-environment.

    “This bill does not remove any protections from Santa Rosa Island,” he told Grijalvaon the floor. “Rather, it restates those protections that are currently in place with Santa Rosa County and Escambia County that is critical to this barrier island.”

    Dan Brown, superintendent of Gulf Islands National Seashore, said Thursday night that Miller’s statement is “absolutely incorrect.”

    The bill does not adequately define the lands that are to remain in public ownership and protected from development, as intended by the Act of July 30, 1946, he said.

    And the bill does not reference the exact dates on current land planning documents for both counties that call for protecting the lands in conservation or limited public recreational use, he said.

    “That means at any time in the future the county can choose to rezone the land or change the definition of what type of activities are allowed on conservation land,” he said.

    That would open up an opportunity to take the lands out of conservation and sell them and develop them, he said.

    “I don’t think that’s the intention of the current County Commission,” he said. “I think Miller and the county commissioners believe this law is preserving the lands in perpetuity. If you look at the bill with a lawyer’s eye, it absolutely does not do that.”

    “And there is nothing in Santa Rosa County’s land plan that prevents the Navarre Pass from being dredged,” Brown said.

    The pieces of land in question are:

    • The area from Santa Rosa Sound to the Gulf of Mexico between Portofino Resort and east to the seashore’s Santa Rosa Area border, which includes University of West Florida’s 152 acres.

    • Navarre State Park that borders Eglin Air Force Base, the site where there have been many efforts to cut a pass from the sound to the Gulf.

    Department of Interior tried unsuccessfully to have the bill amended to assure public beach access in perpetuity at public parking and beach access corridors. And to ensure all lands zoned in preservation and conservation/recreation as of Aug. 1, 2013, remain in that status and in public ownership into perpetuity.

    And it asked for measures that would prevent the dredging of Navarre Pass, along with having the opportunity for the lands held in conservation/recreation be donated to the National Seashore.

    Pensacola Beach Resident Freddie Falgout, who owns two houses on the beach, one since 1957, supports the bill.

    “I hope it goes through,” he said. “I cannot say enough about how happy I would be if we were paying taxes and owned our land and not leasing it. I would be a big asset to all the home owners.”

    The House vote comes as local officials await a Florida Supreme Court ruling on whether county-owned land on Santa Rosa Island, and leaseholders’ homes, condominiums and town homes, can be taxed.

    The court is expected to rule on two cases.

    One was brought against the Escambia County Property Appraiser’s Office for taxing improvements on 2,400 properties on Pensacola Beach. The other was brought against the Santa Rosa Property Appraiser’s Office for taxing land and improvements on roughly 850 pieces of property on Navarre Beach.

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