Disney Settles Property Tax Dispute; DVC Impact Questionable

While the settlement seeks to wrap up years of litigation with the county Appraiser's Office, its casts doubt on any potential benefit for Disney Vacation Club owners.  Epcot Spaceship Earth

The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that Walt Disney World and the Orange County Property Appraiser's Office have reached a settlement on property valuation disputes dating back to 2015. The refund total could exceed $6 million for the theme park giant, but it is not clear if any of the Disney Vacation Club properties will are among those who benefit. 

In 2016, Disney filed suit against former appraiser Rick Singh over methods used to assign values to Disney property. In our prior coverage, DVCNews detailed how several DVC resorts had seen their property tax obligation rise nearly 10% per year for several years straight. Singh's tenure as county appraiser was marked by aggressive valuation methods , dramatically increasing the tax bills of Central Florida amusement proprietors including Disney, Universal Studios and Sea World.

As the chart below details, Disney Vacation Club resort dues rose sharply in the middle part of the decade under Singh's administration, before settling down and even declining in recent years.  Note the amounts listed are ad valorem tax estimates billed to members at the start of each year and may not represent the final assessment. 

Tax Year Beach Club BoardWalk  Bay Lake Tower
 2014  1.0925 1.0941  1.1583 
 2015  1.1602 (+6.2%)  1.1356 (+3.8%)  1.3335 (+15.1%)
 2016  1.2692 (+9.3%)  1.2431 (+9.5%)  1.4621 (+9.6%)
 2017  1.3759 (+8.4%)  1.4042 (+13%)  1.6006 (+9.5%)
 2018  1.4841 (+7.8%)   1.4977 (+6.7%) 1.6905 (+5.6%) 
 2019  1.4470 (-2.5%)  1.5714 (+4.9%) 1.7028 (+0.7%)
 2020  1.4951 (+3.3%)  1.5463 (-1.6%) 1.7034 (+.01%)

In July 2018, Florida's Ninth Circuit Court ruled in Disney's favor, stating that Singh has used improper valuation methods when assigning a value to Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resorts. The appraiser vowed to appeal. In June 2020 the Fifth District Court of Appeals again ruled in Disney's favor, but weeks later rolled-back a key part of that decision leaving the matter unresolved. 

Singh lost the Democratic primary in August 2020 and was later replaced by appraiser Amy Mercado. This resolution is part of a backlog of nearly 300 suits Mercado's office seeks to clean up from the prior administration. In the settlement, resolved via mediation, Disney will receive a refund of about $1.3 million for 2015 and "similar amounts" for tax years 2016 through 2020. 

What remains in doubt is whether any of the Disney Vacation Club resorts are part of this settlement.  In a story from October 2016, FloridaSalesTax.com detailed 37 Walt Disney World properties involved in the original suit, representing more than $62 million worth of payments for tax year 2015. Among those properties are Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney's Contemporary Resort and at least four other resorts with a Disney Vacation Club presence. 

The Orlando Sentinel story claims that the $1.3 million settlement involves "14 theme park properties" totaling $23 million in taxes. Walt Disney World's four theme parks are mentioned by name, along with Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon and Fantasia Golf. No resort hotels--DVC or otherwise--are specifically identified by the Sentinel.