Interest-free Checking

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Hillsborough County officials continue to dither over who should pay how much in Raymond James Stadium property tax for Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer. As they do, interest charges pile up — at a monthly rate of $94,660.

The only person sure of not being left with the tab is Glazer.

The state Supreme Court ruled in April that the football stadium and other publicly funded edifices in Florida leased to private enterprise are taxable. But Glazer's 1996 stadium deal with the Tampa Sports Authority sticks taxpayers with his tax bill. Small wonder that the deal helped make the Bucs one of the most valuable franchises in the National Football League.

The Sports Authority, which oversees the stadium, will owe the county $10.3-million for Glazer's delinquent 1999 and 2000 taxes by June 30. But authority officials want a judge to waive $863,117 — and counting — in interest penalties for the two years they have waited for the Supreme Court to act.

Henry G. Saavedra, the authority's executive director, said there are legal precedents for waiving the interest charges for a government entity.

But county Tax Collector Doug Belden, who once served on the Sports Authority, opposes any waiver. "Why should the small, average taxpayer pay a delinquent rate of anywhere from 5 to 18 percent and the TSA gets their interest waived?" he asked.

One reason that Sports Authority attorney John I. Van Voris may cite at a July 18 court hearing is that his client doesn't have enough in the kitty to pay Glazer's whole obligation.

Saavedra told Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and County Administrator Daniel A. Kleman in a June 1 letter that his agency has only $5.1-million in reserve. Greco and Kleman were among the chief architects of Glazer's one-sided stadium deal.

Saavedra wants the city and county to come up with $6.3-million to cover the rest of the stadium taxes, plus overdue levies on other authority properties.—Francis X. Gilpin

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