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Intensive lobbying by the Florida Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (Florida ARVC) helped push the passage of a new state law that could save campground owners thousands of dollars in annual tax assessments.
The new law, signed by Gov. Jeb Bush last month, creates uniform standards requiring counties to tax campgrounds using the same criteria they use to tax hotels and motels. Several Florida counties have treated each site within a campground as if it were a separate residential unit. As a result, campground operators ended up paying local emergency services taxes that vastly exceeded the rates paid by comparable businesses, such as hotels and motels.
“We didn’t have a law against tax gouging,” said Jim Tillman, lobbyist for Florida ARVC. “In Polk County, the assessment on a 200-unit motel was capped at $7,500 a year, but a 200-unit RV park would pay $41,000. In De Soto County, they were assessing a Wal-Mart for $557 and an RV park for $12,000.”
Other Florida jurisdictions that have been overcharging campgrounds for emergency services assessments include Lake County, Osceola County, Glades County and the city of Pembroke Pines, which is in Broward County, Tillman said.
But while passage of the new law is good news for many Florida campground owners, not every campground owner believes the battle is over. “I’m under the impression the county doesn’t have to follow the new law unless a lawsuit is brought against them,” said John Parkhurst, manager of the 935-site Holiday Travel Resort in Leesburg, in Lake County, about 45 miles north of Orlando.
While Tillman concedes some counties may try to figure out a way to get around the new law, campgrounds now have the legal upper hand. “They might go down kicking and screaming and hollering, but they’ll comply with the law,” he said.
Parkhurst said he is concerned about Lake County’s reaction to the new state law because the county has repeatedly raised its local fire taxes, which it assesses on campgrounds by treating each campsite as if it were a residential unit. Parkhurst has seen his campground’s assessments increase from $36 per site in 1996 to $82 in 1998. The county currently assesses $94 per site, which leaves him with an annual fire tax bill exceeding $90,000.
To make matters worse, Parkhurst said Lake County is considering raising the same taxes again, this time to $120 per site. “If the increase goes through and if they do not recognize the change in the law, we’ll certainly bring suit against them,” said Parkhurst. “I’m hoping that the transition is smooth.”