Florida Supreme Court Hears Bay County Case

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Thursday morning the case involving whether or not the property the Bay County prison sits on should be taxed reached the Florida Supreme Court, and Bay County property appraiser Rick Barnett hopes the high court agrees with him.

It's a complex case that asks a simple question.

Rick Barnett said, "It's a matter of do they owe taxes or not."

This case began when the correctional privatization commission filed a suit challenging the 1999 tax bill it received from Bay County.

They refused to pay, saying the Bay County Prison was state property and therefore immune from taxation, something property appraiser Rick Barnett and tax collector Peggy Brannon disagree with.

"We believe that they owe it, and we hope the Supreme Court agrees with us."

So far Barnett and Brannon haven’t had much luck.

Circuit Judge Dedee Costello rejected their claim, and the First District Court of Appeal agreed with Costello, but Barnett isn’t giving up.

"They're supposed to operate just like a private corporation, and a private corporation is not exempt from ad valorem taxation. If they're going to be a competitive enterprise, then paying taxes is part of it."

This case is being watched carefully by other counties.

"It was my contention, the previous property appraiser's contention and two or three other county property appraisers throughout the state of Florida where this occurred that they are liable for the taxes."

According to the property appraiser's web site, the land and buildings were valued at more than $15 million.

"These privatized corporations have a little leeway. They can operate say seven percent higher than what even the government can run it for so that seven percent should be enough for them to pay it, and I think that was the intent."

But however the Florida Supreme Court decides, "I believe its run its course and I don't believe we're going to spend anymore of Bay County's money fighting it if the Supreme Court rules against us."

Barnett says he hopes to hear a ruling on the case within the next 30 days.