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County chides Progress

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Tax letter states utility will continue with lesser payments

By Mike Wright

CRYSTAL RIVER — For the second time since November, Progress Energy Florida caught Citrus County officials off guard.

First came the company’s decision to pay a little more than half of its property tax bill — a decision that cost the school board and county millions of dollars in revenue.

Then last week, the company’s Florida president, R. Alexander Glenn, sent officials a letter stating the company’s 2013 property taxes will be the same or less than it paid for 2012.

Citrus officials are pre­paring a formal response.

County Commission Chairman Joe Meek said Glenn was off base to suggest the company’s tax payment for 2013 before Property Appraiser Geoff Greene completes an appraisal of the Progress energy complex north of Crystal River.

Glenn’s letter, sent to Meek, Greene, Superintendent of Schools Sandra Himmel and Sheriff Jeff Dawsy, outlines the company’s plans to pay $19 million or less in 2013 property taxes.

Should Progress and its parent company, Duke Energy, decide this year to permanently shelve the broken nuclear power plant, the tax payment could be reduced by another $6 million to $9 million, Glenn wrote.

In his letter, Glenn said he didn’t want Citrus County officials to be blindsided if Progress’ tax payment is less than they expected. That was the case in November, when Progress paid $19 million when officials said the company owes $35.1 million.

Meek said the recipients of Glenn’s letter decided to formulate a response that all of them will sign.

A copy of a draft issued late Friday, obtained by the Chronicle from Himmel through a public records request, criticizes Glenn for stating the company’s tax payment ahead of the formal county appraisal.

“Given that we have not yet undertaken a full assessment to value the property, we think that is premature for you to unilaterally determine what your taxes should be given that taxes are based upon value and not opinion,” the draft letter states.

It adds: “We believe it is inappropriate for your company to determine a partial payment of a tax bill. Duke/Progress Energy would not accept a partial payment of a monthly electric bill from their customer, nor should they.”

County seeks ‘fair share’ from Duke

Glenn’s letter is the latest in a dispute that has caused great strain on a decades-long relationship between county government and Progress and, previously Florida Power, which pays more than 25 percent of the county property tax base and is the county’s largest private employer.

Progress shocked officials in November with its “good faith” property tax payment. The county and school district, which had already set their tax rates and budgets for the fiscal year, suddenly found themselves millions of dollars in the hole.

The reaction was swift and angry. Dawsy conducted a well-attended news conference outside the sheriff’s office during which he said he would blame Duke Energy if the loss in tax revenue placed his deputies in harm’s way. County Commissioner John Kenney called Duke, “a bunch of thugs.”

Greene said his office plans a full assessment of the company’s assets at the energy complex. That process is starting this month with on-site visits by Greene’s assessment team.

Progress then sued Greene over his assessment of pollution-control equipment at the company’s coal burning plants. Progress contends the equipment should be assessed as salvage, or 10 percent of its value. Greene said the equipment has income value to the company and should be taxed as such. The difference is about $1 billion in taxable value.

Meek arranged for both sides to meet earlier this month. The meeting with Greene and Glenn, at the Orlando office of Greene’s attorney, produced no movement on either side on the pollution-control issue.

Greene, who said last week he is open to further negotiations, declined to comment on Glenn’s letter.

The draft letter makes it clear officials expect Progress to pay taxes determined by assessment.

“We are committed to working through these issues efficiently and amicably, and yet, we are committed to ensuring that Duke, like every other taxpayer, pay their fair share, not the share they want to pay,” it states.

Meek said he doesn’t know what to make of Glenn’s letter last week regarding the 2013 property taxes. He said it doesn’t help the situation.

“It’s very unusual and, some would say, disturbing,” he said. “They’re dictating to us what they say they’re going to pay.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.