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Greene to court: Order Progress to pay tax

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By Mike Wright

CRYSTAL RIVER — Progress Energy Florida should pay its full 2012 Citrus County property taxes because its property assessments are appropriate, attorneys for Property Appraiser Geoff Greene said in court documents.

Greene’s answer to the Progress lawsuit, received by the circuit court last week, also says the company never disputed its taxes since a 1998 court decision that allowed the property appraiser to fully assess pollution-control equipment.

Greene’s attorneys also allege the company filed its tax returns too late and never contested the 2012 assessments.

Progress sued Greene over its 2012 assessment, claiming that pollution-control equipment should be taxed as salvage at 10 percent of its cost in accordance to state law.

Greene, however, is relying on the 1998 court decision declaring that law unconstitutional.

The judge in that case, Patricia Thomas, recused herself from the current lawsuit.

Progress in November paid $19.3 million in taxes; the county says it owes about $35 million.

The county and school board now have a “fiscal emergency” because of the lesser-than-expected tax payment, Greene’s attorneys contend.

Progress said its $19.3 million is a “good faith” payment of taxes. Greene’s court response is the payment represents just 56 percent of the taxes owed.

Other highlights of Greene’s response, according to court files:

+ Progress did not file a return for its pollution control equipment until after the April 1, 2012, deadline. The company requested and received an extension for its tangible personal property but the extension did not include the pollution control. Progress cannot claim the salvage exemption because it missed the filing deadline.

+ Pollution-control equipment is included in the Progress rate base and therefore should be considered part of the energy-generating equipment.

+ After the 1998 court case, the property appraiser and Progress agreed on a methodology to assess pollution-control equipment. Greene’s response said the company never disputed that agreement nor did it contest any of the taxes until this year.

+ The school board and county commission each relied on Progress to make its full tax payment.

+ The company should pay at least $15.1 million in addition to what it has paid for 2012.

Progress spokeswoman Suzanne Grant declined to answer specific questions regarding the lawsuit. She emailed a statement that read, in part:

“Progress Energy Florida complies with the tax laws in every jurisdiction in which we do business. We believe we are in compliance with tax laws applicable to our business in Citrus County, and we are working through the appropriate system to resolve this issue.”

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