$110 million sweetheart deal for Developer at expense of taxpayers

Scott Fenstermaker

Kudos to the Property Owners’ Association. In two articles in its September 2019 Bulletin, the POA presents a number of interesting facts and figures underlying the proposed huge increase in Sumter County taxes. That issue of the Bulletin should be read by all Villagers.

The misleadingly named Villages Homeowners Advocates (the VHA), which is little more than a front organization for the Developer, has been silent on the proposed tax increase. The Villages Daily Sun, of course, publishes no news that could reflect unfavorably on the Developer, who not only owns the Daily Sun but is also the biggest campaign contributor in the area. Thus, the Daily Sun has not described what is really behind the proposed tax increase. Subsequent to publication of the POA Bulletin, villages-news.com, the only independent news publication in The Villages, published an editorial on the proposed tax increase, making some of the same points as the POA articles.

Both the POA articles and the villages-news.com editorial allude to, but do not focus on, what appears to be a key factor underlying the proposed tax increase – the sweetheart deal that the Sumter County Commissioners have given the Developer on impact fees. As background for those readers who may not be aware of impact fees, impact fees are a one-time tax imposed on all new residential and commercial construction by local governments to defray the cost of growth’s “impact” on roads and other infrastructure needs.

The POA Bulletin reveals the following: In August 2018, the Developer and the Sumter County Commissioners entered into an agreement whereby Sumter County will spend almost $92 million on road construction in order to accommodate the Developer’s expansion of The Villages. [Amazingly, the Daily Sun did not report this.] Aside from that agreement, the Developer will pay Sumter County a transportation impact fee of $901 for each new home the Developer builds. BUT the individual builder of a single family home outside The Villages will pay a transportation impact fee of $2,600, i.e., $1,699 more than Developer will pay. According to Sumter County Administrator Bradley Arnold, the lower rate is charged the Developer because “The Villages development has a lower capacity impact on the road network due to the fewer number of residents per home and the extensive use of multi-model trails.”

Mr. Arnold’s rationale for the sweetheart rate (35 percent of the regular rate) charged the Developer has the odor of BS. Individual home builders do not build thousands of homes at one time like the Developer does. When individual homes are gradually built, roads can be gradually constructed to accommodate increased traffic– as opposed to the rapid increase in road construction necessitated by The Villages expansion. Furthermore, with a gradual pace of home and road construction, the increased property tax revenues (and transportation impact fees) from the new homes can pay for road improvements, without the kind of massive tax increase as we are now facing. Thus, a cynic might suspect that the impact-fee rate differential in favor of the Developer is actually due to campaign contributions by, and relationships with, the Developer.

Look at the numbers. The Villages expansion will reportedly add approximately 65,000 new homes to The Villages. If the Developer simply paid the same transportation impact fee as regular Sumter County builders pay: Sixty-five thousand new Villages homes would generate $110 million in additional tax revenue. This increased revenue would be more than enough to cover the $92 million in road improvements that the county is installing at the behest of the Developer and would also provide another $18,000,000 for other road needs.

It certainly appears that the residents of Sumter County are being screwed in order to benefit the Developer and that we need a new Board of Commissioners – one that places the financial welfare of Sumter County residents over the profits of the Developer.

Villager Scott Fenstermaker is a frequent contributor to Villages-News.com.