Citrus County Sheriff Jeffrey Dawsy pulled no punches in a property tax dispute with Progress Energy. The sheriff said an underpayment of property taxes could lead to the layoffs of 30 law enforcement personnel, 12 firefighters and the closing of two fire stations.
"That to me is grave," Dawsy told a news conference, "The citizens of this community, if they didn't care about fire or law enforcement, should be outraged that their safety is now in danger."
Monday, Progress Energy paid $19 million toward its $35 million property tax bill. The company feels the property appraiser did not fairly value some pollution control equipment, two aging coal-fired power plants and a damaged and idle nuclear power plant.
All are located in an energy complex in Crystal River.
"We've been in conversation and in negotiation with the property tax appraiser's office for over two years," company spokesperson Suzanne Grant said Thursday, "So this is not an overnight issue. It's something that he's known about for many years."
The budget shortfall is the subject of emergency meetings Friday by both the Citrus County School Board and the County Commission. In the meantime, Sheriff Dawsy warns Progress Energy that on-site fire and police personnel may be on their own.
"I have to advise them how many officers and what type of response I could give the power plant in a timely manner," Dawsy explained. "I told them at this particular time, because of their actions, I am now voiding those mutual aid contracts with them...because I can't do it."
The sheriff also notified FEMA "I cannot guarantee that I can do the protective notification to the citizens in the area of the protective zone of the nuclear power plant" because of budget constraints.
Grant said Progress Energy will file a lawsuit over the disputed property values Friday or Monday.
"It's important that we make sure we're paying the appropriate amount of taxes, just like every taxpayer wants to ensure that they're assessed at the appropriate value of their home" Grant said, adding the utility's customers ultimately pay those taxes.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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