The so-called "double-dipping” was discovered by the News Herald, which broke the story this morning.
The oversight, as it's being called, will cost DeGeorge thousands of dollars in back taxes, penalties and interest. In 1993 Panama City Mayor Lauren DeGeorge bought a home that use to sit on this property at the corner of Beck Avenue and 11th Street. She restored the home, and sold it in 2002.
During that same time period, DeGeorge lived at a house off Grace Avenue. She claimed the state's $25,000 homestead exemption on both homes for nine years, but the law only allows homeowners to claim one exemption, and the property owner is required to live at that residence.
DeGeorge admits she never lived in the St. Andrews home. DeGeorge puts the blame for the oversights on the property appraiser’s office, but the property appraiser’s office says there are checks and balances.
In a letter to Newschannel 7, Assistant Chief Deputy Dan Sowell says property owners claiming homestead exemptions receive three notices a year, the renewal notice in January, the notice of proposed taxes in August, and their tax bill in November. He goes on to say Florida law requires the property owner to notify the property appraiser if they're receiving an exemption they're not qualified to take.
That means for nine years DeGeorge was notified of her homestead exemption for the 11th Street property.
"I just take my checkbook and pay my bill. It was unintentional."
“Regardless of her reason, Degeorge owes nine years in back taxes, plus interest and penalties.”
DeGeorge will soon receive notice she owns the county $4,821 for the oversight. DeGeorge isn't the only taxpayer faulted for the oversight.
The property appraiser’s office is in the process of sending out seven other letters to property owners that double dipped. The seven other owners owe a combined $50,000 in back taxes and penalties.