Compass Lake to repay tax money


Article Courtesy of The Jackson County Floridian


Published December 12, 2009

The Compass Lake in the Hills Property Owners Association will have to pay back almost $14,000 of special tax money it used to pay unacceptable expenses, the Jackson County Commission decided Tuesday.

The discrepancies, found in records from March to September of 2009, were discovered by county administrative and finance staff members. They had been asked to review all expenses paid out of money collected via the Municipal Services Taxing Unit.

The flat-rate special tax is charged to each lot in the subdivision. It is meant to cover essential services to the community. Currently, the tax is $135 per lot.

Controversy within the subdivision has existed for years as to what constitutes an appropriate expense, and the meaning of essential services. Some property owners say the money is sometimes mishandled by the subdivision’s POA, which administers the funds through a contract with the county.

Some have claimed that the POA improperly uses tax money, for example, to pay expenses for POA-owned amenities and holdings. The POA, on the other hand, has defended its practices, contending that the expenses are legitimately charged to the special taxing unit because the amenities benefit the subdivision owners.

Over the last several years,  the county has taken a more aggressive role in overseeing the budget as the complaints mounted.

On Tuesday, commissioners agreed that, in several instances, money is owed back to the MSTU.
For instance, county staff found that feed for horses in the Hills’ stable was paid with MSTU funds, yet horseback riding fees went to the property owners association.

In a memo about this and similar circumstances, staff noted that, as a rule, fees for the use of facilities and programs typically help offset operational costs. Currently, most of the operational costs associated with amenities are borne by the MSTU, yet the revenue received from the use of amenities is paid directly to the POA, according to a staff review.

Staff also found that in some instances, “concessions and personal use items” have been charged to the MSTU. Again, concessions generate revenue which goes to the POA, rather than offsetting the cost to the MSTU.

The taxing unit paid $31 in the review period for sodas, low-cal Cheese Nips and Ritz snacks, Fritos and other items.

The personal care items listed by staff and paid for by the MSTU included aspirin and other over-the-counter remedies. Staff wanted to know whether these personal items should be paid by the MSTU, the POA or the individual using them.

Additionally, county staff found that insurance costs for some properties and equipment owned by the POA were paid by the MSTU. The staff wanted to know whether those costs were being appropriately charged to the taxing unit.

For instance, the MSTU paid $5,081 to insure POA-owned vehicles associated with the fire and rescue, road and bridge, and parks and recreation departments in the subdivision.
Fire equipment cost the MSTU $6,073 to ensure.

The reviewers also found that the MSTU pays the rent for a porta-potty for the McCormick Lake area in the subdivision. The portable unit was placed there after the POA closed the restroom because of an arson incident. Staff questioned whether the MSTU should be paying the rental fee, listed as $74.90 during the review period.

The reviewers also found a discrepancy in relation to equipment which was purchased and then returned to the store for a refund. The tool cost $310, and was taken out of MSTU funds, but when it was returned to the store, only $289 came back to the taxing unit. Staff wants the rest of the money returned to the MSTU, and further research into the transaction.

Questions also arose about the purchase of 36 dozen golf balls, at $54 total, and $620-worth of electric bills paid to power the stable, a bath house, lake house, a pavilion and an RV park in the subdivision.

The commission voted unanimously to require the POA to pay the money back into the MSTU fund.