Disney to get $1.3M refund after settling extended tax dispute

The Mouse is poised to get several million dollars in tax refunds now that a yearslong dispute between Disney World and the property appraiser’s office is over, officials said.

Disney will receive a $1.3 million tax refund after the company paid about $23 million in property taxes in 2015 for the four theme parks and 10 other parcels involved in a lawsuit, according to the Orange County tax collector’s office.

Orange County Property Appraiser Amy Mercado said she expects Disney to get additional tax refunds for 2016 to 2020, as well. County Tax Collector Scott Randolph said Monday he hasn’t received the certificate of corrections to determine the amount of the refunds.

Disney could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Mercado said the settlement with Disney shows her office is “willing to negotiate and have the hard conversations and not run away from it.”

When asked if Disney World, which is part of a billion-dollar company, is paying its fair share in taxes, Mercado said, “The value is the value … The whole purpose of our office, regardless of who is in it, is fair, equitable, and just values. It doesn’t matter who the owners are. And what I believe we need to do is remove all the political noise that has occurred throughout the years and give everyone, every property owner, their fair shake.”

Disney has fought over the value of its properties for years, suing the property appraiser’s office annually over its 2015 tax bill and the subsequent years. The latest round of Disney lawsuits for the 2020 tax year were filed about a month ago in Orange Circuit Court.

Former Property Appraiser Rick Singh, who was elected in 2012, had vowed to fight Disney in court and wanted to hold the company accountable for what he called years of being undervalued. But Singh faced controversies in office over allegations of misconduct and eventually lost his bid for reelection in 2020, with Mercado beating him and taking over the office in January.

Between Singh and Disney, Mercado said, “There was a breakdown in communication; one side and the other did not want to communicate anymore with each other. And that was that. So it just stood; nothing else happened. And then every year, (Disney) just kept suing, and it kept going.”

Mercado said her office didn’t perform any new assessments on the Disney properties and reached the settlement based on a range for each assessment.

Fighting the Disney lawsuits cost an estimated $25,000 in legal bills from 2015 to 2020, according to Mercado’s office.

Disney and Mercado’s office is each responsible for its own legal fees, court documents said.

“Our budget in the office for legal fees for this current year that I inherited was $1.6 million,” Mercado said. “That’s how much litigation we have in the office. We inherited hundreds and hundreds of cases that we’re trying to work through.”

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