Thursday, October 21, 2010

Millionaire Loses LaBelle Marina Property Fight

Glades County Value Adjustment Board Says "No" To Walter Ferguson

MOORE HAVEN, FL. --  Appearing before the five member Glades County Value Adjustment Board Thursday morning, Port LaBelle Marina owner Walter Ferguson argued for re-statement of an agricultural exemption that would save him thousands of dollars in Glades property taxes.

Unfortunately for Ferguson, his arguments about why he didn't have cattle on the land for almost a year, didn't fly. The Board denied his appeal, not making Ferguson a happy man. The Board found that he didn't follow the law requiring continual agricultural use of land to qualify for the liberal property tax savings allowed by the state.

Multi-millionaire Walter R. Ferguson,  owner of the Port LaBelle Marina was trying his best to keep 30 acres surrounding the south and east sides the Port LaBelle Marina classified as agricultural for pasturing cattle, even though the property did not have a fence enclosing the property and no cattle on it for much of last year and most of 2010.

In the Spring of 2009, the company put up a fence around the property, bordered by the Caloosahatchee River on the north and Oxbox Drive on the south. A lease was drawn up with a cattle owner, and Ferguson submitted an application to Larry Luckey, Glades County Property appraiser to lower the land's property assessments, and thereby it's property taxes by using the acreage as a cattle pasture.

Cattle were placed on the land and Luckey approved the agricultural classification for 2009, lowering the property taxes by tens of thousands of dollars in 2009. From records it appears the marina property value was lowered from $2,310,321 to $1,431,183.

But shortly thereafter, the Corps of Engineers determined Ferguson had illegally placed barbed wire fences on property owned by the Army Corps of Engineers along about one-quarter of a mile along the river front. The fence was installed about 50 feet inside the Corps property line. The Corps told Ferguson to remove the fence, as he was trespassing.

The fence along the river front was removed around June of 2009. The cattle taken away.

Ferguson was notified by letter April 6th by Glades County Property Appraiser Larry Luckey, that Ferguson was no longer entitled to an agriculture classification because there had been no cattle or complete fencing on the property since about June of 2009.

Ferguson delayed until May 2010 in erecting a new fence along the river, now installed about 50 feet south from where it had been illegally placed before. 

Ferguson argued before the Board that he had failed to follow up with the fence contractor to install a new fence after the original fence was taken down, but that he should have been given more time by Luckey to install a new one. The testimony before the Board showed the fence was down for about a year, Ferguson having plenty of time to install the fence and get cattle on the land.

Although a bit late, as cattle were supposed to be on the acreage on January 1st to qualify, Ferguson told the Board he was planning to get cattle on the land "today."

Referring to a Sunday Morning News article May 3, 2010 Ferguson thought was critical of him, he admitted to the Board "I was trespassing," referring to the fence being installed along the Corp of Engineers river front property, but explained he "was not guilty of fraud."

It wasn't clear if the denial of fraud was in reference to his installation of the fence on Corps of Engineers property, or for failing to notify the Property Appraiser's office he didn't have cattle on the land for almost a year. Property owners are required to make notification each year by March 1 if the land use changes.

Apparently, Ferguson was not too happy with his perceived treatment by Glades Property Appraiser Luckey, and exclaimed to Luckey after Luckey's presentation that "Part of what you said is true!" Luckey responded saying "All of what I said is true," before the chairman quieted the two down.

Previous stories on Walter Ferguson's Port LaBelle Marina: - May 2010 - March 2009

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