Rep. Van Zant, wife ordered to pay thousands for false claim on tax exemption since 2008

State Rep. Charles Van Zant and his wife Katherine Van Zant were ordered by the Bradford County Property Appraiser’s Office to pay nearly $9,000 for falsely claiming a homestead exemption since 2008.

Katherine Van Zant is currently running to fill her husband’s seat in the state House.

An Action News Jax public records request revealed an anonymous tipster alerted The Property Appraiser’s Office in June that the Van Zants had been receiving a homestead exemption on a property in Keystone Heights since 2008, but no one had lived there for years.

The Property Appraiser’s Office’s review concluded that the Van Zants had improperly received the exemption since 2008.

After several meetings between the property appraiser’s office, the Van Zants and their attorney, the Van Zants paid $8,716.28 to the tax collector, which was the full amount due for the unpaid taxes, plus interest.

“We are convinced and believe that we do qualify for a homestead exemption.” said Katherine Van Zant. “Just to take care of any indication of impropriety, we’re paying the homestead exemption, but we’re also – my husband is also appealing the decision.”

She said the home has been getting remodeled for the past eight years.

"We’ve been going back and forth from that house to a house that’s 2 miles away that belongs to our son,” said Katherine Van Zant.

Charles Van Zant is on the Florida House Finance and Tax Committee. A spokesman said he was not available for an interview on Wednesday.

Both Van Zants used the Keystone Heights address in their filings for candidacy.

According to Florida Division of Elections residency requirement guidelines, candidates for the state Legislature don’t need to live in an address in their district until Election Day.

In Katherine Van Zant’s case, that’s November.

She said she does not plan on changing the address in her campaign filings.

“No, we plan on moving back into the house,” said Katherine Van Zant.

“I would just say it’s unfortunate and it’s disturbing. We all want lower taxes but we have to pay our taxes,” said Bobby Payne, who is running against Katherine Van Zant in this month’s Republican primary.

According to the Bradford County Property Appraiser’s Office website, fraudulent homestead exemptions “steal from our law enforcement, our schools, our fire and EMS service and can lower our quality of life in Bradford County. Those tax dollars have to be made up somewhere, and the honest tax payers get stuck making up the difference.”

“The hardworking citizens of the county should know that unfortunately their representative has not been honest, truthful and forthright in their homestead exemption,” said Leslie Dougher, who is running against Katherine Van Zant in this month’s Republican primary.

Dougher said she is calling on property appraisers in surrounding counties for a forensic audit of the Van Zants’ properties. She said she has also reached out to the Florida Commission on Ethics about their financial disclosures.