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Pamelia supervisor is registered New York voter, but could be on hook for Florida tax break

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Lawrence C. Longway proved to the Jefferson County Board of Elections this week that he qualifies as a registered voter in New York State. But the Pamelia supervisor now will need to account to the state of Florida for the eight years he claimed to be a permanent resident in Hillsborough County, where he has received a Homestead Exemption since 2005.

If the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Office determines Mr. Longway was a New York State resident since 2005, it will seek to recoup the tax savings he received by placing a lien on the house owned by the Longways at 1245 Acappella Lane, Apollo Beach, Fla.

The Times also learned Thursday that Mr. Longway had a valid Florida driver’s license from 2005 to 2007, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Mr. Longway, who has served as Pamelia supervisor since 2004, declined to comment Thursday.

Following a two-week investigation, the Board of Elections ruled Tuesday that Mr. Longway qualifies as a voting resident in New York. During the county’s primary election Tuesday, the Republican supervisor will be on the ballot as an incumbent candidate facing challenger Scott J. Allen.

Mr. Longway’s status as a resident was questioned by the Board of Elections last month after it received a letter about his Florida residency from Rochester resident Suzanne Phillips, a Pamelia native. At the time, the board questioned whether Mr. Longway qualified as a registered voter, because the home address listed on his election petition is a commercial building he owns in Pamelia: Long-Park Tire at 23751 Route 342.

But Republican Commissioner Jerry O. Eaton said the board later found out the tire business qualifies as a residence in the town of Pamelia because the town does not have a law excluding residents from living in commercial buildings. Mr. Longway also submitted a copy of his driver’s license, an electricity bill and a bank statement as proof of his residency.

“Living in a commercial building is not normally considered a residence, so the question we posed to Mr. Longway was to prove he is a resident,” Mr. Eaton said. “But the town of Pamelia code enforcement officer presented a letter to say the town had no zoning law that limited someone from residing in a commercial building. That was a big factor in determining he was a voting resident.”

But Mr. Longway can’t have the best of both states.

Mr. Longway needed to qualify as a permanent Florida resident to receive a Homestead Exemption, said William E. Shepherd, general counsel for the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Office. Mr. Longway and his wife, Virginia, began receiving a Homestead Exemption in 2005 for a house they owned at 1227 Acappella Lane. The Longways sold that house July 1, 2009, for $749,000 to Jeffrey and Sherrie Boje, according to county property records.

Then, in 2010 the Longways successfully applied for a Homestead Exemption for a house owned in the same neighborhood at 1245 Acappella Lane. That property was purchased in July 2007 for $725,000, according to county property records. On the application for exemption, Mr. Longway claimed to be a permanent resident of Florida since June 1, 2004.

“It appears Mr. Longway has to make a choice,” Mr. Shepherd said in a phone interview Thursday. “He either has to claim he has always been a resident of New York, in which case we will file a lien on the property for taxes that escaped taxation, and a penalty of 50 percent of the taxes that were improperly exempted. Or he’ll claim he was a Florida resident, and then his claim in New York was inaccurate.”

For the years in which Mr. Longway is found disqualified as a permanent Florida resident, Hillsborough County would seek to recoup at least $750 a year in tax savings from the Homestead Exemption, plus the 50 percent penalty for unpaid taxes and 15 percent interest per year.

Though it wasn’t noted by the property appraiser office, section 196.131 of the Florida Statutes stipulates the punishment for providing false information to receive a Homestead Exemption: “Any person who knowingly and willfully gives false information for the purpose of claiming homestead exemption is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to one year in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.”

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