Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether Hillsborough County Aviation Authority properties should be tax-exempt

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Tampa International Airport with British Airways Boeing plane, by Florida Chuck via iStock for WMNF News (2022 file).

The Hillsborough County property appraiser has gone to the Florida Supreme Court in a dispute about whether properties owned by the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority should receive tax exemptions.

Attorneys for Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez filed a notice Friday that is a first step in asking the Supreme Court to review a July decision by a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Henriquez has argued that 15 properties owned by the aviation authority should not receive property-tax exemptions.

The properties were leased to private businesses for such things as fixed-base operations, aircraft maintenance and repair and fueling.

In the July ruling, appeals court 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.’”

As is common, the notice does not detail arguments Henriquez’s attorneys will make at the Supreme Court.

In an email after this story was published, Hillsborough County Aviation Authority General Counsel Michael Stephens wrote, “The 2nd District Court of Appeal has already ruled twice on this -most recently in July- siding in favor of the Aviation Authority and our tenants. The ruling is unequivocally clear: these long-standing tax exemptions are protected under the law. These exemptions drive economic growth. We believe this drawn-out legal fight is a waste of taxpayer dollars and risks putting our county at a significant competitive disadvantage.”

©2023 The News Service of Florida

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