Sarasota County had spent $240,161 through Feb. 29, in support of county Property Appraiser Bill Furst’s efforts to collect back taxes from Marina Jack complex owner Bob Soran.
Sarasota County Clerk of Court Judge Thomas Gallen ruled Feb. 22 that the restaurant and marina company did not have to pay property taxes, because of a years-old agreement that grandfathered in a decision affirming the property’s use for public benefit, leaving it ineligible to be assessed ad valorem taxes.
The Sarasota Observer also has learned that a transcript of a deposition in the case, videotaped May 4, revealed that J. Geoffrey Pflugner, Furst’s attorney, once acted as a special magistrate for the Sarasota County Value Adjustment Board. In that capacity, Pflugner signed a recommendation, in November 1992, that granted tax-exemption status to Marina Jack.
Additionally, Pflugner represented Marina Jack years ago when it was under different ownership.
During the May 4 deposition, however, Furst said Pflugner had determined that the Marina Jack property was no longer eligible to be exempt from property taxes.
Pflugner, did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.
The county’s legal bill of more than $240,000 so far in the case, Furst said, represents “two-and-a-half years worth of fees.”
“You never know what’s going to happen or how long these things will take to get through the system,” Furst said.
Gallen’s ruling did say that Sarasota County could tax the surrounding property that was not specified in the Marina Jack agreement. However, no determination has been made at this point regarding whether such property exists on the site.
Soran filed a lawsuit last year, challenging Furst’s August 2010 decision to collect $1.5 million in taxes on the Marina Jack complex — $300,000 for 2010 and $1.2 million in back taxes.
The city owns the land and the building, but Jack Graham Inc. leases them both for 3% of the company’s annual revenues. That came out to about $300,000 in 2010. The tax-exemption agreement essentially has been in place since the 1960s.
Furst said last week that Gallen still had not issued his written decision.
However, Bradenton attorney John Harllee, who defended Jack Graham Inc., said Gallen’s written order “is nothing more than a formality.”
“Judge Gallen already made his intentions known with his oral ruling,” Harllee said. “We’re just awaiting the signature of a written order.”
It’s unknown whether Furst will appeal the ruling.
In the meantime, Soran said he hopes Furst will end the legal dispute once the written order has been filed.
“I’ve spent almost $150,000 on this case, and as a taxpayer, I’ve spent more that that to pay for Mr. Furst’s lawyers,” Soran said. “This is a loss not just for citizens, but for county taxpayers, including me. I just hope we can mutually find some way to put this thing to bed.”
Soran said the legal dispute had forced him “to defend a position that was already legally exempt with the city.”
“Our patrons and the charities we support each year have lost in this,” Soran said.
Marina Jack has an active and aggressive public-relations and community-involvement program that helps raise money for numerous events, to make charitable donations and to pay for festivities such as the July Fourth fireworks, Soran said.
“Spending this type of money on attorneys means that some of our community involvement is going to be tempered down this year,” Soran said. “We hope the appraiser’s office rethinks its stance, so we can all move on and focus on more important matters.”