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Property tax talks reach stalemate

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Negotiations with Greene, Progress lead nowhere

By Mike Wright

CRYSTAL RIVER — Both sides in the Progress Energy Florida tax dispute met Friday in a negotiation session brokered by Commissioner Joe Meek, but the talks lasted less than two hours and made no headway.

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No further meetings are planned, much to Meek’s chagrin.

“I’m very disappointed there wasn’t positive news out of this meeting,” said Meek who, while bringing both sides to the table, 

neither attended the meeting nor participated in negotiations.

Citrus County Property Appraiser Geoff Greene said he refused Progress Energy Florida President Alex Glenn’s request to 

negotiate assessments for pollution-control equipment used in calculating 2012 taxes. Progress is suing Greene over his method of assessing pollution-control equipment.

“I’m not willing to negotiate pollution control for 2012,” Greene said. “I’ll put everything on the table for 2013. I’m not in a position to go backwards.”

Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said the company would not comment on settlement negotiations. She said Progress is committed to further negotiations with Greene.

Progress, Citrus County’s largest private employer and taxpayer, is disputing $1.3 billion in pollution-control equipment installed in 2009. The company relies on a state law that says it should be assessed as salvage, at 10 percent of its value.

Greene said a 1989 court decision found that law unconstitutional and his office assesses the equipment at a higher value.

Progress in November paid $19.3 million of the $36 million that Citrus County officials say is owed, sending local governments into a budgetary tailspin.

Meek, the county commission chairman and president of the Citrus County Economic Development Council, said he wanted to broker a discussion between Greene and Progress in the hopes of thwarting a costly and time-consuming lawsuit.

“My hope and intent was to facilitate a meeting with both of the parties to find common ground and seek resolution on this issue,” Meek said.

Meek said he met individually with both Greene and Glenn to learn, in a broad way, what each side could discuss. He said he did not ask for details nor wished to get involved in the negotiations.

The meeting was Friday in the Orlando offices of Tom Cloud, Greene’s attorney in the Progress lawsuit. Along with Greene and Glenn, both sides included experts and attorneys.

Greene did not invite Bill Keith, a former Progress tax official who is Greene’s consultant who oversees the Progress Energy tax return for his office. Greene said Keith was available by phone if needed.

“I hoped we were going to have some fruitful discussions,” Greene said. “I was cautiously optimistic going down there. They thought we were bringing an offer. I don’t know where that came from. We were going there to listen.”

Greene downplayed Meek’s role in setting up the session, saying only that Meek asked Greene to provide Glenn with a potential meeting.

Greene said while he and Glenn found common ground on some minor points, neither side budged from their positions on the pollution-control assessment.

“Nothing really jelled,” he said. “Nothing came to fruition.”

Before leaving, Greene said he handed Glenn a letter demanding access in the coming weeks to the Progress Energy complex north of Crystal River and other locales for Greene’s office to conduct a thorough assessment for 2013.

The letter states his real estate team will require eight days between Jan. 14 and Feb. 1 to inspect the coal plants, nuclear facility and pollution-control equipment.

“Please let me know which days that you will have your knowledgeable staff available and be able to provide full access to the assets,” the letter states.

The county commission and school board are splitting the cost of litigation and the new assessment, though members of both boards say they want a close watch on the money spent.

Both boards voted in early December to spend up to $175,000 each in attorney and expert costs. School board members since have questioned the need for an equal split since the tax fallout — a net of about $2.5 million — is far below the county’s $7.5 million loss.

Meek said before he would support further county backing, he wants Greene to show he is making attempts to settle with Progress.

He said he was hoping Friday’s meeting would have started that process in earnest.

“I’m very disappointed,” Meek said. “I sincerely hope and desire we’re able to come to some resolution. It’s in the best interest in this county and community to have a strong partnership with Progress Energy. I’m not saying the valuation is right or wrong. I’d like to see us settle this without going through an expensive legal battle.”