A small county on the Florida Gulf Coast is in a budget crisis because its largest taxpayer is refusing to pay up. Progress Energy Florida – which is now owned by Duke Energy – operates a coal and nuclear power plant complex that accounts for one-quarter of Citrus County's property tax revenues. But Duke Energy only paid half its tax bill last year and this week warned it'll do the same in 2013. WFAE's Julie Rose explains:
Every year for more than a decade, Progress Energy has wrangled with Citrus County over its tax bill for the Crystal River power plant. And every year Progress has paid about $30 million in property taxes to the county – until last year, that is. In late October, Duke Energy sent a payment for just $19 million of its $36 million tax bill. Citrus County had to tap its reserves to avoid immediate cuts to schools and sheriff's department.
And now Duke and Progress have sent a letter to the county commission warning not to expect more than $19 million in 2013 either. Commission Chairman Joe Meek calls it a disregard for the county's tax valuation process, which has barely even begun for 2013.
"And yet they have determined they will pay an amount they believe they owe, irregardless of whatever the property appraiser says," noted Meek at a commission meeting Tuesday night. "That is disturbing and unusual."
And Meek, along with other Citrus County officials, said as much in a response letter to Duke Energy yesterday.
Duke Energy's refusal to pay comes with a lawsuit claiming Citrus County is overvaluing improvements made to limit pollution from the coal-fired units. Not to mention the Crystal River nuclear reactor that's been offline since a botched repair effort in 2009. If Duke decides to close the reactor permanently rather than fix it, the company says Citrus County should expect an even smaller tax payment in 2013.
Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant says the letter of warning was meant to let county officials know what to plan on as they budget for the coming year.
"We have many employees who live in the community, they send their children to those schools - we care deeply about the community, it's our home as well," said Grant. "However, we need to make sure we're paying a proper amount of taxes. It's only fair to all of our customers that we pay the proper amount of taxes."
Citrus County's Property Appraiser says he and Progress Energy were always able to agree on a "fair" tax value until Duke Energy took over last year. Now they'll have to duke it out in court – and deal with partial payments in the meantime. To which county officials say, "Duke Energy wouldn't accept partial payment from one of its electric customers, so why should we?"