Progress Energy fails to pay full tax bill, county in emergency mode

Newly elected Citrus County Commission Chairman Joe Meek has asked for an emergency meeting of the board to discuss the consequences of the failure of Progress/Duke Energy to pay in full its tax bill.

The company’s tax assessment is approximately $35 million, which is 26 percent of the County’s tax base.

On Tuesday, Progress Energy/Duke Energy (PEF) made a tax payment of approximately $19 million, with no indication when it will pay the full amount the Citrus County Property Appraiser says they owe, according to a statement released by the county. This payment affects this current fiscal year, so the county commissioners need to consider potential steps to protect the community and the public interest, the statement said.

In announcing the emergency meeting on Friday, the county did not say why Progress Energy did not pay the full $35 million. Citrus Daily has learned that the reason the county didn't say why may have been due to legal reasons involving the county and PEF.

According to PEF spokesperson Suzanne Grant, the utility has been working with property appraiser Geoff Greene in an effort to determine a fair tax value for the Crystal River Energy Complex and other company-owned property in the county for more than two years.

In a statement issued today, the company said, "The company believes the valuation of our properties in Citrus County is overstated, so we’re following the process put in place by the state to determine a fair assessment. Like any taxpayer, we believe in paying our fair share of taxes; however, we also believe we have an obligation to all of our customers and shareholders to challenge situations in which we believe our property has been overvalued, resulting in overstated taxes."

The company said it has worked to resolve differences with the county property appraiser's office without success. "After more than two years trying to resolve the issue amicably, Progress Energy Florida is filing a complaint in Circuit Court regarding the overstated tax value – as is every taxpayer’s right," the statement said.

At issue is how the property appraiser values Progress Energy’s property, plants and buildings – specifically the value of pollution control equipment on the generation units at the Crystal River Energy Complex, the value of the coal units (CR 1 and 2) and the value of CR 3. Additionally, the company and the property appraiser disagree on valuation methodologies, the statement said.

"Progress Energy Florida works hard to comply 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 court system to resolve this issue," the statement said.

Meanwhile, while the matter winds its way through court, the county commission will have to figure out how to fund services with less money, a situation that takes effect immediately in the just-passed 2012-13 budget for Citrus County, which had counted on those revenues being there, but which now has a multimillion-dollar hole in it. And that will be the subject of Friday's meeting of the county commission.

County commission meeting details:

WHEN: At 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 30.

WHERE: Board of County Commission Chambers in the Citrus County Courthouse, 110 N. Apopka Avenue, Room 100 in Inverness.

WHY: The budget for FY 2013 was adopted September 30, 2012 in accordance with Florida law. It was based on the taxes estimated by the County Property Appraiser. Progress Energy/Duke Energy’s failure to pay their total tax bill will directly affect the County’s ability to fund programs and activities.

This meeting provides a public forum to brief the Board of County Commissioners and inform the public about this issue and to provide an opportunity to discuss potential actions and consequences.