South Sumter residents blast commissioners over ‘outrageous’ 24 percent tax hike

Southern Sumter County residents took their shots Tuesday at the county Board of Commissioners over a proposed 24 percent property tax increase in the county’s 2019-2020 budget.

They told commissioners that their area has been neglected while the county seems more willing to help The Villages. They also suggested boosting developer impact fees instead of increasing property taxes.

The proposed tax hike wasn’t on the agenda, but residents spoke during the public forum portion of the meeting, which was held at the historic courthouse in Bushnell.

The proposed budget would increase county taxes for the first time in 15 years, setting the tax rate at $6.70 per $1,000 assessed valuation. The rate is $1.67 above the rolled back rate of $5.03, which is the rate needed to collect the same amount of revenue as the previous year.

Public hearings on the budget will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 10 at the Savannah Center and on Sept. 24. The budget likely will be adopted immediately after the second public hearing.

“In south Sumter County, we don’t feel we’re getting any services for our tax dollars,” said Phyllis Smith, of Sumterville, adding that she has had no success in getting the county to deal with a hazardous oak tree on county property.

Toby Farmer, of Webster, said the county should increase impact fees on developers instead of putting the burden on property taxpayers.

“It should not fall on the citizens of the county for The Villages to grow,” said Farmer, who added that his family has lived in Sumter County for five generations.

David Mongo, of Webster, said roads in south Sumter County are flooded and neglected while millions of dollars are spent to repave Buena Vista and Morse boulevards in The Villages.

“It’s hard for us to hear about a bike path for The Villages when we can’t even drive to our homes,” he said. “I don’t understand why The Villages is being given so much of our county money for growth. Why are we helping them with sidewalks? We just don’t want to be impacted by The Villages lifestyle.”

Trisha Paulding, of Wildwood, said she cares for a 96-year-old World War II veteran who lives on less than $1,000 a month and can’t afford to pay the higher taxes.

“This tax increase is outrageous,” she said.

County Administrator Bradley Arnold said extensive road projects like those in The Villages are a driving force behind the tax increase. He said the repaving of Buena Vista and Morse boulevards will keep them from deteriorating.

But he said some older rural Sumter County roads cannot be improved without meeting current storm water drainage standards. On one road with seven homes, he said, the cost of upgrading it would have been a million dollars.

“There is not enough money to be able to improve the 800-plus miles of roads the county has,” he said.

The county doesn’t pay for Villages bike paths or trails, he said, and next year’s road budget will focus on regional roads.

Arnold said the county expects to collect about $3.5 million next year in developer impact fees, adding that setting the fees too high would discourage development.