This meeting is a continuance of the Lake County Value Adjustment Board for 1999. The Board met in regular session on Friday, August 27, 1999, at 9:00 a.m., in the Board of County Commissioner's Meeting Room, Lake County Administration Building, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Welton G. Cadwell, Chairman; and Robert A. Pool. Commr. Catherine C. Hanson was not present, due to another commitment. School Board members present were: Mary Fletcher and Phyllis Patten. Others present were: Sanford "Sandy" Minkoff, County Attorney; Ed Havill, Property Appraiser; Frank Royce, Chief Deputy, Property Appraiser's Office; Ginger Casburn, Exemptions Supervisor, Property Appraiser's Office; and Sandra Carter, Deputy Clerk.
The Chairman opened the meeting.
PETITION NO. 1999-12 - RENEE W. RIGDON, TRUSTEE FOR DIANA P. WISE
Mr. Ed Havill, Lake County Property Appraiser, informed the Board that this case involved a Trust. He stated that Ms. Renee Rigdon was Trustee for Diana P. Wise and that she had filed for homestead exemption for Ms. Wise; however, the way the trust was set up Ms. Wise would have qualified anyway. He stated that the property in the Trust was sold and that money was used to purchase another parcel of property, which was the parcel that they were filing homestead exemption on. He stated that his office had to turn the request down, because the Trust states that the property in trust was the parcel that the applicant should have received homestead exemption on, but that parcel no longer existed. He stated that, realizing the intent of the Trust, he would not object to the Board overturning his denial and granting approval of the request.
Mr. Rantson Davis, Attorney, Davis & Davis, representing the applicant, addressed the Board stating that he did not object to the Board overturning the Property Appraiser's denial and granting approval of the request for homestead exemption.
On a motion by Commr. Pool, seconded by Ms. Fletcher and carried unanimously, by a 4-0 vote, the Board overturned the recommendation of the Property Appraiser and approved a request for homestead exemption for Petition No. 1999-12, Renee W. Rigdon, Trustee for Diana P. Wise, due to the fact that the Property Appraiser did not object to having his denial overturned and the request for homestead exemption approved, given the intent of the Trust.
Commr. Hanson was not present at this meeting.
PETITION NO. 1999-25 - JIMMY D. CRAWFORD, AGENT FOR THE OKLAWAHA BASIN RECREATION AND CONSERVATION AND CONTROL AUTHORITY A/K/A LAKE COUNTY WATER AUTHORITY
Mr. Ed Havill, Lake County Property Appraiser, informed the Board that, based on the case that was recently settled in Sebring, Florida, his office reviewed all the tax exempt bodies in the County this year and the Water Authority's Hickory Point property came up. He stated that they felt the property should be exempt, but that the improvements to the property should be taxed and that was what this case was about.
Mr. Jimmy Crawford, Attorney, Richey and Crawford, representing the applicant, addressed the Board stating that there were two legal issues involving this case, the first being whether the Lake County Water Authority was immune from taxation and the second being whether, regardless of immunity, it was exempt from taxation. He referred to a memorandum (Applicant's Exhibit A), dated August 25, 1999, in which he argued both of those issues, which he submitted, for the record. He stated that the immunity question was an interesting one that he felt he might be able to take to the Supreme Court and argue the case; however, he did not feel it would serve his client's best interest to do so. He stated that he felt the applicant was totally, completely exempt and would present most of his evidence, based upon that fact. He stated that Section 196.199 of the Florida Statutes states that property owned by a special district, or governmental agency, that was used for a public governmental or municipal purpose was exempt. He stated that the question was what was a public municipal or governmental purpose and did the Lake County Water Authority fit into that purpose.
Dr. Robert Taylor, Director, Lake County Water Authority, addressed the Board, upon the request of Mr. Crawford, and answered questions regarding the case. He stated that Hickory Point has 12 boat ramps, a fishing pier, a swimming beach, restrooms, and a large pavilion that is available to rent. He stated that a couple of gazebo type pavilions and a waterfront picnic area are the basic improvements that have been made, along with the parking area, entry way, etc. He stated that no portion of the Hickory Point boating facilities, such as the pavilion and docks, are leased out. He stated that there is a $2.00 per vehicle entry fee to enter the park, or one can purchase an annual pass, which has a different fee schedule for Lake County versus out-of-county residents. He stated that approximately 100,000 people utilize the Hickory Point facility per year, with approximately 7,000 people utilizing it on Memorial Day, at no charge.
At this time, Mr. Crawford showed the Board a short video that was produced by the Lake County Water Authority, regarding the Hickory Point Recreational Facility, which he noted premiered in 1992, and continued to question Dr. Taylor about the facility. He noted that the Sebring case, cited by the Property Appraiser, should cause attention and he understood why he was bringing it to the attention of the Board, however, noted that it was not the controlling authority for this district and was the culmination of a long line of cases that dealt with public agencies who lease facilities out, or operate them themselves, for a private purpose, such as dog tracks, horse tracks, and race car tracks, which he noted was what Sebring was - a race car track.
Mr. Crawford stated that the Lake County Water Authority was chartered in 1953, by a special law of Florida, and that the purpose of the Water Authority was to foster and improve the tourist business in the County, by improvements to the streams, lakes, and canals and to provide recreational facilities for the County's tourists and citizens. He stated that the official name for the Lake County Water Authority was the Oklawaha Basin Recreation and Water Conservation and Control Authority, but that it was not a water supply authority. He stated that they are not involved at all in the supply of water. He referred to the case of Harper v. McDavid, on Page 4 of his handout, noting that it referred to what was and was not a public purpose, and that the case of Page v. Fernandina Harbor Joint Venture By and Through Fernandina Marina Investors, Ltd., settled the question of whether a park and marina was a public purpose, if it was used for the public. He stated that the Orlando Utilities Commission v. Milligan case, cited by the Property Appraiser, found that that park was not a public purpose, which he noted was correct. He stated that the Orlando Utilities Commission built a park and used it for its own employees, for retreats, picnics, etc., where the public was not invited. He stated that that was not a public purpose and should be taxed; however, the Lake County Water Authority should not be taxed.
Ms. Jordan Stewart, Attorney, Wood & Stewart, representing the Property Appraiser's Office, addressed the Board, stating that she was surprised by Mr. Crawford's presentation, noting that the recreational uses were more intense than she was aware of. She stated that she needed to apologize for a misstatement contained in the Memorandum of Law that was provided to the Board, regarding this case, noting that she was under the misapprehension that the Lake County Water Authority's purpose was that of providing water to the jurisdiction, however, discovered that they did not - their purpose was to provide recreation and conserve water. She stated, however, that she did not feel it was significant. She discussed whether or not the Sebring case was controlling in this district, noting that a landmark case that dates back to 1976, which is cited pretty much every time somebody says that a case is not controlling, states, "In the absence of a district court or appellate court case from a higher court, even the Supreme Court, or this County's own jurisdiction, which is the Fifth District Court of Appeals, a decision of another district court is controlling in the circuit court.", which she noted made it clear that it was controlling in this district and that, until the Supreme Court gets to it, it was the law of the land.
Ms. Stewart stated that, with regard to the issue of immunity, the case of Canaveral Port Authority v. Department of Revenue, 690 So.2d 1226 (Fla. 1996), contained in the handout that she alluded to earlier, settled the issue of what kind of facility would be immune. She stated that what they said is that it has to be a purpose of the sovereign state, noting that immunity occurs only because of a concept of sovereign immunity that says that they do not tax the State, they leave it alone. She stated that, due to the fact that counties are an arm of the State, they also find counties to be immune.
Ms. Stewart stated that, with regard to the issue of exemption, the only question was what constitutes a public purpose. She stated that the Property Appraisers of the State had been more or less stringent on this issue for a long time. She informed the Board what had transpired, with regard to the latest Sebring case, noting that, after the first Sebring case, people got upset because the raceway was not being given its tax break. She stated that they went to the Legislature and got legislation passed to amend the definition of "public purpose", such that it would include a raceway and a number of other things similar to raceways. She stated that the Second District Court of Appeal found the amendment to the legislation unconstitutional, noting that they stated it was a recreational use of property - it was not a necessary function of government, it was in competition with private enterprise and had an advantage, if it was provided with an exemption. She stated that the Lake County Water Authority was a conservation organization that was in place to make sure that the water supply in the County stays pure and that, as an adjunct to that, they make money by providing a proprietary service. She stated that any municipal or public entity has the right to do that, however, she would suggest that they are not entitled to an exemption merely because they are a public entity. She stated that, in overturning the judgment of the Trial Court, the Second District Court of Appeal found the statute unconstitutional and upheld the denial of exemption, stating the following:
A governmental function has been defined as one having to do with the administration of some phase of government, that is, exercising or dispensing some element of sovereignty, and a proprietary function has been defined as a function designed to promote the comfort, convenience, safety and happiness of the citizens. The operation of a racetrack does not specifically relate to either the health, morals, safety, protection, or welfare of the municipality or its citizens. While it may be desirable to have such a facility and the facility may have an impact on the well-being of some of the citizens, such ancillary effects do not make the operation one that serves a municipal purpose and even property that is owned by a municipality, but used by it for other than a governmental purpose, loses its tax exemption. When the government operates in other than its governmental capacity, i.e., in a proprietary capacity, it too must carry its share of the tax burden.
Commr. Cadwell questioned whether it was not left up to the local legislative body to decide what was a governmental purpose.
Ms. Stewart stated that the Courts are defining it, for the purpose of exemption.
Commr. Pool questioned whether this case could end up in court again.
Mr. Sandy Minkoff, County Attorney, stated that anytime the Board makes a decision, pro or con, either party - the Property Appraiser or the applicant can go to Court, so what the Board does does not impact what the Court does. He stated that he felt the case that was cited by the Property Appraiser regarding immunity was clearly on point, noting that it appeared that the case the Water Authority cited was overruled, so the Water Authority was not immune. He stated, however, that there had been no cases cited by the Property Appraiser that indicated that parks are not a governmental function. He stated that there were no cases that he was aware of that said that the Board had to deny the exemption, noting that that was a decision the Board had to make.
Commr. Cadwell informed the Board that, in studying this case, he came to the conclusion that it was a governmental taxing authority carrying out its mission and should be exempt, therefore, was going to support overturning the Property Appraiser's denial of this case.
On a motion by Ms. Patten, seconded by Commr. Pool and carried unanimously, by a 4-0 vote, the Board overturned the Property Appraiser's recommendation of denial and approved an ad valorem tax exemption for Petition No. 1999-25 - Jimmy D. Crawford, Agent for the Oklawaha Basin Recreation and Conservation and Control Authority a/k/a Lake County Water Authority, due to the fact that it was felt the Lake County Water Authority was a governmental taxing authority carrying out its mission and should be exempt.
Commr. Hanson was not present at this meeting.
PETITION NOS. 1999-14 AND 1999-15 - CITY OF MOUNT DORA
Mr. Gary Cooney, Attorney, representing the City of Mount Dora, addressed the Board and requested that Petition Nos. 1999-14 and 1999-15 be discussed at the same time, noting that they were in a slightly different posture on one issue, but, overall, were about the same.
It was noted that the Property Appraiser did not object to having both petitions addressed at the same time; therefore, the Board approved to hear both cases as one.
Mr. Cooney informed the Board that Mr. Ed Havill, Lake County Property Appraiser, had informed the City of Mount Dora, by letter, dated July 9, 1999, that he intended to once again place what is referred to as the "golf course" and "lawn bowling rinks" on the tax roll. He stated that it was the Property Appraiser's third attempt to do so, noting that the first attempt was in 1978, however, the Board denied it. He stated that the Property Appraiser attempted it again in 1990 and 1991; however, the Circuit Court once again removed the properties from the tax roll and the properties stayed exempt. He stated that a new building was constructed at the lawn bowling facility, located at Evans Park, in Mount Dora, and a new management agreement was signed with the Lawn Bowling Club, to run the lawn bowling rinks.
Mr. Cooney stated that he did not feel the Board needed to get into whether something was a public purpose or not, in this case, however, would address it later, if they felt it needed to be addressed. He stated that the case had already been decided twice before, once by the Value Adjustment Board and once by the Circuit Court, and, in both instances, it was determined that the facilities were a public purpose and exempt. He stated that the Florida Statutes very clearly state that this Board would not need to go any further than that, because once the exemption was granted, in the case of the golf course, if there was a lease, the exemption would last as long as the lease, which he noted was in effect until approximately the year 2043. He stated that, in the case of the lawn bowling, there was a slight difference, in that said property was not leased. He stated that the lawn bowlers manage the rinks for the City of Mount Dora. He stated that the City of Mount Dora had reconstructed the rinks, from time to time, and had done things just as any other city park would do; however, there was no lease agreement with the lawn bowlers.
Mr. Cooney stated that the Florida Constitution very plainly states that, if a municipality owns a piece of property and uses it exclusively for a municipal or public purpose, then that property is exempt. He stated that both of the facilities are opened to the public, during operating hours, unless they are reserved. He distributed, for the record, a handout (Applicant's Exhibit A) containing various case law, a Pre-Hearing Memorandum stating the Factual Contentions of Each Party, and an exerpt from Chapter 180 of the Florida Statutes. He stated that it is very clear that, if the Board determines a parcel of property is exempt and the Circuit Court determines that it is exempt, it is exempt. He stated that the Board did not have to address the issue of public purpose, because it had already been determined. He stated that the properties involved were found to be a public purpose and were exempt, would remain exempt, and would continue to be exempt.
Ms. Jordan Stewart, Attorney, Wood & Stewart, representing the Property Appraiser, addressed the Board and rebuted Mr. Cooney's comments, stating that recreation is not a public purpose. She stated that the amendment to the Florida Statutes provided that recreational uses by a municipality were unconstitutional, as falling outside the just value law. She stated that all properties are subject to tax and exemptions should be looked at strictly in favor of taxation and very strictly construed against exempting property. She corrected the statement made by Mr. Cooney regarding the 1990 and 1991 cases, noting that they were not decided by the Circuit Court, they were the subject of a stipulation for settlement. She read into the record the Statute governing the Sebring case and noted reasons why she felt the Board could not grant the properties in question an exemption from taxation.
Commr. Cadwell stated that, in both of these cases, he felt the City of Mount Dora chose these two particular things, as they would a park or anything else, to be of public purpose, therefore, would support overturning the recommendation of denial by the Property Appraiser and approving the exemption.
On a motion by Commr. Pool, seconded by Ms. Fletcher and carried unanimously, by a 4-0 vote, the Board overturned the Property Appraiser's recommendation of denial and approved ad valorem tax exemption for Petition Nos. 1999-14 and 1999-15 - City of Mount Dora.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was recessed at 10:10 a.m., to be continued at 9:00 a.m., Wednesday, September 29, 1999.
__________________________________ WELTON G. CADWELL, CHAIRMAN
JAMES C. WATKINS, CLERK