WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service has closed an audit of $52.5 million of bonds issued by the Ave Maria Stewardship Community District in southwest Florida with no change to the tax-exempt status of the debt, the district disclosed this week.
In a material event notice filed with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s Electronic Municipal Market Access system Tuesday, the district included a copy of a letter from Robert Henn, the manager of field operations for the IRS’ tax-exempt bond office. In it, Henn says the service has finished its audit and has made a “no-change” determination, but reserves the right to revisit the bonds in another examination if the need arises.
The bonds were issued to finance portions of a capital improvement program, specifically to finance the acquisition or construction of neighborhood infrastructure such as stormwater management facilities and a master irrigation system, according to bond documents.
District manager Todd Wodraska said he believes his agency was tapped for an audit after the IRS identified several problems with $64.3 million of recreational revenue bonds issued by the Village Center Community Development District of Lake County, Fla., in 2003 to finance the acquisition of golf courses, parks, and facilities for the Villages retirement community.
“Most likely it’s fallout from the Villages community development district bonds,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to put those pieces together, but nobody told us that that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
In that examination, an IRS agent argued that the deals “perverted” Florida law permitting CDDs because the board of supervisors for the district were populated exclusively by either employees or people affiliated with the developer, the Villages of Lake Sumter Inc., and that a third-party evaluator determined the district overpaid by about $52.5 million for the 19 facilities it bought from the developer.
Last June, the CDD rejected the IRS’ settlement offer, which would require it to redeem $355.35 million of bonds it issued from 1993 to 1995, pay the federal government at least $2.85 million, and agree to refrain from issuing any more tax-exempt bonds in the future.
Following the rejection, the IRS expanded its audit of bonds issued by the CDD to include six more bond issues, as well as two sets of bonds issued by the related Sumter Landing Community Development District, bringing the amount of debt under audit to nearly $400 million.
While that examination remains ongoing, Wodraska said Ave Maria’s audit, which began in January, was relatively straightforward and painless.
“I was kind of surprised how easy it went,” he said.
The Ave Maria district was created in 2004 and is charged with providing public infrastructure to the district, which spans 10,805 acres, according to its website.
Florida firm Nabors, Giblin & Nickerson PA was bond counsel on the deal, and the bonds were underwritten by Prager, Sealy & Co.