Sumter Commission books Savannah Center for hearings on 24 percent tax hike

Anticipating large crowds, the Sumter County Board of Commissioners has booked the Savannah Center in The Villages for two public hearings next month on the county’s controversial 2019-2020 budget.

Hearings will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 10 and the same time on Sept. 24. The Savannah Center is on the east side of Buena Vista Boulevard, just south of El Camino Real.

Regular September board meetings on the first and third Tuesdays have been canceled. Instead, a regular board meeting will be held at 5 p.m. at Colony Cottage Recreation Center. The Aug. 27 regular board meeting, usually held at Colony Cottage, will be held at 5 p.m. in the historic courtroom at Bushnell.

Crowds are expected due to a proposed 24 percent increase in the county’s share of property tax bills.

More than 500 people attended a meeting last month at the Colony Cottage Recreation Center even though the proposed budget was not on the agenda. Last Tuesday, residents of southern Sumter County registered their complaints about the tax hike during the public forum portion of the meeting in Bushnell.

The proposed $249-million budget would increase county taxes for the first time in 15 years, setting the tax rate at $6.70 per $1,000 assessed valuation. That 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 outside of new construction.

The owner of a home assessed at $200,000 after a $50,000 Florida homestead credit would pay $1,675 in county property taxes next year, an increase of $204.53. A property owner’s tax bill also includes fees for schools and municipal government.

General fund revenue of about $123.9 million would be up 12 percent from last year. Besides property taxes, the county also receives revenue from sales taxes, as well as state and federal aid and the sale of municipal bonds.

Road projects, capital projects and added personnel costs for the sheriff’s offices are some of the items driving the increased expenditures.

Major road projects include the repaving of Buena Vista and Morse boulevards in The Villages. Capital projects include improvements to the animal services and sheriff’s maintenance buildings.

Eight positions will be added to the sheriff’s office due to a state mandate to provide enhanced school security due to last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public High School.

The tax increase comes despite rapid growth, which eventually will boost the county’s property tax base. Over the past year, 2,100 homes were added, including 341 outside The Villages. Construction began on 159 commercial buildings, which will add 2.5 million square feet of commercial space.

County Administrator Bradley Arnold said although growth will build the tax base, some infrastructure expenses, such as roads and fire stations, must be made before the county receives the higher property tax revenue.