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Court settles Tampa Port Authority and Hillsborough County Aviation Authority tax disputes

Exterior of Port Tampa Bay building
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media

Panels of the 2nd District Court of Appeal issued separate rulings in cases involving whether property owned by both authorities should receive tax exemptions.

A state appeals court Friday backed the Hillsborough County property appraiser in a dispute about whether a shipyard should be required to pay property taxes, but it said properties owned by the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority should be exempt.

Panels of the 2nd District Court of Appeal issued separate rulings in cases involving whether property owned by the Tampa Port Authority and the aviation authority should receive tax exemptions.

In one of the cases, county Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez argued that Gulf Marine Repair Corp., which operates a shipyard on port authority property, should be subject to taxes.

While government property is generally exempt from taxes, one of the rulings Friday said Gulf Marine is a for-profit firm that leases port property. The ruling, written by Judge Stevan Northcutt and joined by Judges Morris Silberman and Edward LaRose, said Gulf Marine’s use of the property doesn’t serve what is known as a “governmental-governmental function” and, as a result, doesn’t qualify for a tax exemption.

In the other case, Henriquez argued that 15 properties owned by the aviation authority should not receive tax exemptions. The properties were leased to private businesses for such things as fixed-base operations, aircraft maintenance and repair and fueling.

Judge Suzanne Labrit, in a ruling joined by Judges Anthony Black and Andrea Teves Smith, wrote that fixed-base operations “fall squarely within the Legislature's definition of ‘governmental purpose’ in (a section of state law). And the remaining properties are used for substantially equivalent activities such as fueling, repairing, and maintaining aircraft. Like FBOs (fixed-base operations), these aviation activities on airport property satisfy the plain language of the statutory definition of ‘governmental purpose.’ Therefore, pursuant to (state law), the lessees' interests in these properties ‘shall be exempt from ad valorem taxation.’"