Holiday Island board grapples with legalities

Friday, February 3, 2012

HOLIDAY ISLAND -- Is a contract legal and can it be sued for breach if it violates state law to begin with?

That is the "Catch-22" Holiday Island commissioners grappled with in a special meeting Monday, partly to discuss how to handle what they feel is a breach of contract by developer Tom Dees.

Under a contract signed with Dees in 2004 and renewed every three years since then, Dees is to market quit-claimed, foreclosed and inventory lots, pay any county taxes due on them by the due date and forward any prorated assessments to the district upon their sale.

In return, the district has waived his paying assessments on such unsold lots.

But according to two Attorney General's opinions related to other suburban improvement districts, no one is exempt from paying assessments except some nonprofit organizations, such as churches.

The board had before it a letter drafted by its attorney to Dees and discussed voting to send it. The board did not furnish a copy of the draft to the press or public, claiming exemption under the Freedom of Information Act.

Reasons for the letter, however, were discussed, such as informing Dees he had breached the contract by failing to pay taxes on his unsold lots by the October 2011 deadline and threatening further action.

Dees had said in an earlier news article he was going to wait to pay taxes until he saw what the newly elected board decided about charging him assessments.

Although the district did not bill him for 2011 assessments, it has stated its intention to follow state law and bill him for 2012 assessments as outlined in the recent Assessment of Benefits study.

The contract with Dees ends in 2013.

If Dees has to pay taxes (close to $100,000) and assessments (close to $400,000) on unsold lots, there's a huge problem, said Commissioner Ken Ames, who had spoken with Dees on behalf of the board, trying to resolve the issue.

"If we think we're getting a windfall, it's not going to happen," he said. "It's his contention we're in breach, also."

There was no motion to send the letter, but the board approved a motion to ask Commissioner Linda Graves and possibly interim district manager Boyce Williams to try to renegotiate a contract with Dees, based on suggestions Graves made about how an agreement could be reached that would satisfy both parties and comply with state law.

In other business, the board:

* Approved a motion to renovate and rent the two-bedroom apartment in the basement of the district office to one of the sheriff's deputies for $250 per month plus $50 for utilities. The board approved the motion unanimously after discussing concerns about "entanglements" in the past with the former district manager living there at a low rent rate, possible discrimination against renters with children and the market value of the apartment.

* Approved a motion to extend the Recreation Center hours to up to 30 per week.

* Returned from executive session to approve a motion to schedule two special meetings to interview candidates for the district manager position.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: