Another skirmish is underway in the face-off between Pinellas and Pasco counties over the Crossbar Ranch property, in north-central Pasco. During the former “water war” on the Suncoast, Pinellas bought the 12,400-acre Crossbar property some 40 years ago for a well field now operated by regional wholesale utility Tampa Bay Water. Pasco County wants to buy the land to preserve it and open it to the public, but Pinellas has rebuffed the offer.
This week, Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano said Pinellas County owes Pasco a $53,000 property tax payment on the Crossbar land. Pasco Property Appraiser Mike Wells says Pinellas had paid the tax on Crossbar Ranch for years, but Joe Morrisey, an assistant Pinellas county attorney, counters Pinellas is not obligated to do so because the land is exempt from taxation because it is publicly owned.
Pinellas only has a property tax exemption on land it owns within Pinellas County, according to Wells. “We can’t go and buy a big piece of property in Pinellas County and say it’s immune from taxation,” he says.
The question of what obligation Pinellas has to pay property tax on Crossbar Ranch would become moot if it accepted Pasco’s offer to purchase. Pinellas should sell the land to Pasco, advice we would offer Pasco officials if the situation were reversed.
If the drinking-water situation on the Suncoast ever gets so bad that the water war erupts again, owning Crossbar wouldn’t be much help to Pinellas. It would be like having a thousand cans of Spam in your garage as a hedge against a nuclear holocaust.