With the issue playing out in Monroe County Circuit Court and the state Legislature, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, who represents the Keys, says taxes should be paid on privately owned military housing in Key West.
In 2007, the U.S. Navy transferred ownership of 890 military family houses to United Kingdom-based Balfour Beatty Communities subsidiary Southeast Housing LLC.
Last year then-Monroe County Property Appraiser Karl Borglum decided private ownership means the houses are subject to local taxation and filed an $11.5 million lien, including penalties and interest.
A pair of bills is working through the state House and Senate that, if approved, would erase the lien and codify a tax exemption.
"The taxpayers of Monroe County deserve better," Garcia said Tuesday. "Why can a foreign company hire Tallahassee lobbyists and get special treatment and pay no taxes? That's wrong and that is why I am involved."
Tuesday, Garcia's office was drafting a letter making its case to U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
"I will make our case to the Navy, write the governor and the legislators," Garcia said. "We need to shine a big, bright light on this. I will do my part to keep the pressure up and get them to pay their fair share."
Last week, Keys state Rep. Holly Raschein presented an unsuccessful amendment to House Bill 531 that would limit the tax exemption to military houses occupied by active-duty or civilian defense workers, but apply taxes to units rented to non-military.
The affected housing in Key West is on Peary Court, Trumbo Annex, Sigsbee Park, Truman Annex and the Branch Medical Clinic on South Roosevelt Boulevard.
At a hearing Monday, an attorney for the Property Appraiser's Office asked Circuit Court Judge David Audlin to enforce the $11.5 million tax lien.
Property Appraiser Scott Russell said Audlin gave both sides 20 days to come back with detailed arguments, then 10 more days to issue counter-arguments. "We're waiting," he said. "We still feel like our case is very secure."
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