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Florida Newspaper Eyes Tax-Exempt ‘Campgrounds’

October 28, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

The 16 temporary campgrounds that pop up in Florida’s Volusia County during events such as Biketoberfest take in thousands of dollars from bikers who just want a place to pitch a tent.

Yet many of those businesses operate on land that is partially or totally exempt from county property taxes, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

While the disparity between the land’s assessed value and its taxable value appears large in some cases, the amount of foregone taxes is relatively small when compared to the county’s overall budget.

“This has come up a number of times over the years,” said County Property Appraiser Morgan Gilreath. “But these are considered incidental uses that don’t interfere with the agricultural operation.”

Gilreath said trying to rescind an exemption or raise the assessed value of the land is difficult. And he must have evidence that will stand up in court before even attempting a change.

Gilreath said agricultural exemptions apply as long as the campground business does not disrupt the primary agricultural use. For example, if the landowner grows hay or raises cattle, allowing campers several weeks a year would not disrupt the primary operation.

Calls and e-mails to several of the landowners went unanswered.

Margie Patchett, executive director of the anti-tax group Volusia Tax Reform, said her organization has not examined the situation and has not taken a stance.

Three properties of the Volusia County campgrounds — ABATE at the county fairground, the Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club and the Daytona 200 Motorcycle Club — receive full exemptions as nonprofit groups. Without those exemptions, property taxes would total $13,341.30.

Four campgrounds have no exemptions and pay property taxes on the full assessed value of their land.

The other nine properties receive agricultural exemptions.

At Volusia County’s current property tax rate of $5.36 per $1,000 of taxable value, taxes due on the 13 properties would have totaled $40,475.68 if the agricultural exemptions weren’t in place. The owners of the 13 sites were billed a total of $19,508.60.

So, even if all the exemptions were rescinded, the county would gain just $34,308.38 in property tax revenue. That figure represents about sixth-thousandths of 1% of the county’s $614.2 million budget for the current year.

Some campgrounds charge $10 to $15 per person per day during special events. Others charge $30 to $60 per site.

But there is no way to know how many people pay those fees during the events, Gilreath said.

Campground operators are required to collect sales tax from campers and forward that money to the state Department of Revenue.

But Renee Watters, chief of public information at the Department of Revenue, said state law makes those records confidential, so there is no way to track the campgrounds’ revenue.

That glitch in the system prevents Gilreath from raising the appraised value of the land to reflect the increased value from special events.

“There may be some added value to doing this,” he said. “But carving out what that added value is and being able to prove it in a court of law is very difficult to do.”

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