ORLANDO-Already dealing with one legal hot potato–the Presidential election–the Florida Supreme Court is about to get another sizzling issue. That one is property taxes, $5 million worth that hasn’t been paid since 1998 by the 446-room Hyatt Regency Hotel at Orlando International Airport.

The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which owns the hotel, will ask the High Court to throw out rulings by two lower courts that say the agency must pay up. GOAA argues it doesn’t have to pay a dime because the eight-year-old, award-winning hotel serves a direct public purpose on airport grounds, like runways and baggage carousels, making it tax exempt.

But the Orange Circuit Court in Orlando, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, FL and Orange County Property Tax Appraiser Richard T. Crotty maintain the aviation agency is running the hotel as a private, profit-making business and must pay annual property taxes like any other business. Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels manages the asset for GOAA and is paid an annual fee.

The Florida Supreme Court’s decision will also affect about $500,000 in other back taxes the property appraiser is trying to collect from 100 airport concessionaires. Like the aviation agency, the concessionaires are balking at paying property taxes because they too serve a public purpose with their services, such as newsstands and T-shirt shops.

As GOAA gears up for its state Supreme Court battle, the agency faces another dispute, one that will wind up costing it at least $50 million to resolve. The Federal Aviation Agency contends GOAA constructed a series of new ponds and canals away from the three runways without FAA permission.

The ponds and canals are supposed to attract birds and other wildlife who otherwise might get sucked into the engines of planes or wind up getting splattered on an aircraft’s windshield, a regular occurrence at Orlando International Airport. GOAA argues it received FAA approval before doing the construction. But the FAA is forcing the aviation authority to redo its work, a job that may wind up costing $75 million over the next five years, planners familiar with the project tell GlobeSt.com.

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