Gulf of Mexico
Older cement brick houses sit alongside newer buildings in Pensacola Beach. Escambia County and Pensacola Beach leaders are trying to bring some uniformity to the complicated lease system that has governed development on the beach since 1947. (Photo: Gregg Pachkowski/gregg@pnj.com)

Florida: Everyone agrees Pensacola Beach's lease system is broken. Now how do we fix it?

Sitting next to his Pensacola Beach neighbor at a recent Santa Rosa Island Authority meeting, Mark DeNunzio gave beach leaders one example the often inequitable and frequently nonsensical system that determines the amount of taxes and lease fees beach residents pay for their homes.

His Ariola Drive neighbor's 99-years lease is automatically renewable while his own 99-year lease must be renegotiated at the end of its term. That difference means DeNunzio cannot be assessed property taxes on the land underneath his home while his neighbor must pay taxes on her land.

"My lease won't be up for another 40 years, so I will have 40 years worth of tax savings," DeNunzio said. "That is a substantial amount of money that is being lost by Escambia County," he added as his neighbor listened and shook her head.

Lease fee increase on the table

Escambia County and Pensacola Beach leaders hope to bring some uniformity to the complicated lease system that has governed development on the beach since 1947, but their task isn't easy.

The Santa Rosa Island Authority took a first step in the complicated process Wednesday night during a lengthy discussion about the more than 4,700 leases that the authority controls on the beach.

As part of the discussion, the authority members discussed raising the annual lease fees they charge beach residents.

The authority also said it wants to see a thorough review of every beach lease when it comes up for a renewal, a move that could mean delays for people wanting to buy or sell beach properties.

History of the issue: Decades of tax disputes, no answers on Pensacola Beach ownership

Some pay more than others: Pensacola Beach lease and tax system unfair, county and beach leaders agree

Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender said beach residents should be aware of the terms of their lease before they list their properties. Lenders often require lease terms of 30 years or longer for mortgage financing.

"The onus might be on Realtors to tell people to check how much time is on their lease," he said. "(They should) make sure they have their lease properly situated before they get a contract on their house."

How did we get here?

All Pensacola Beach property is leased rather than owned because of a 1947 agreement, which deeded much of Santa Rosa Island to Escambia County from the federal government. The deed agreement prohibited the county from selling the land and stipulated the land must be used to benefit the public.

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