Hilton will fight property taxes

Published: Saturday, January 15, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 14, 2005 at 11:36 p.m.


Hilton's tax bill

  • Alachua County: $170,916
  • Alachua County Library District: $30,647
  • Alachua County School Board: $170,644
  • St. John's River Water Management District: $8,547
  • City of Gainesville: $91,420
  • Total: $472,174

  • The Hilton University of Florida Conference Center is seeking an injunction to prevent county agencies from assessing property taxes against the hotel, which has been exempt from property taxes since it opened in 2000.
    Because it is built on state-owned property, the Hilton has never had to pay property taxes, but city and county officials said this week that new legal precedents might allow taxing authorities to seek revenue from improvements on the property, including the hotel itself.
    "The city of Gainesville approached me and suggested the case law had changed since my original decision to exempt it and asked me to put in on the roll," said Alachua County Property Appraiser Ed Crapo, who added the Hilton to the property tax roll in August.
    The $18.5 million property would owe about $472,000 this year in taxes to the five taxing authorities in Alachua County, according to the office of the Alachua County Tax Collector. Crapo said value of the taxes on the Hilton didn't factor into the decision to seek property taxes.
    "Raising revenue is not my job," Crapo said. "Raising revenue is the job of the people that set the millage rates."
    City Attorney Marion Radson, whose office will represent the property appraiser, said a number of issues led attorneys to believe the taxes could be levied against the Hilton. Radson said improvements to the property, including the hotel itself, are subject to taxation because the property is under a 75-year lease to a private entity, the building is owned by a private entity and it is used for a private purpose.
    Representatives of Hilton did not respond to several requests for comment. But a petition for an injunction filed by the hotel's owners with the 8th Judicial Circuit focuses on an opinion provided by the property appraiser's office before construction began on the hotel.
    In 1998 the companies proposing the project sought an opinion from the property appraiser on whether the Hilton would be subject to property taxes. The property appraiser's office responded "it is our opinion that the proposed Conference Center would be immune or exempt from Alachua County, Florida ad valorem real property taxes."
    The petition also argues that the conference center provides a necessary service to UF, thus giving it a "governmental and a public purpose."
    The property appraiser's argument to tax the hotel has already received some support: the case was initially brought before the Alachua County Value Adjustment Board in October and Jonathan Wershow, the "special master" who ruled on the case, and the Value Adjustment Board, made up of county commissioners and school board members, both sided against the hotel.
    Though Wershow's conclusion sided with the property appraiser's office, the ruling he wrote on the case sympathizes with the hotel. It is "patently unfair" for the property appraiser to seek property taxes from the site now that it is in operation and its financing, based on a tax-exempt status, cannot be changed, Wershow wrote.
    However, the law requires the property appraiser to reassess each parcel's tax status each year, he wrote.
    Jeff Adelson can be reached at (352) 374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com.

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