Big crowd shows up for Sumter County hearing on 25 percent tax increase

Enduring shouts of “shame on you” from an unruly crowd, Sumter County commissioners Tuesday night voted to endorse a property tax rate increase of about 25 percent for the county’s 2019-2020 budget.

Sumter County commissioners prepare to start Tuesday night’s meeting that drew a near-capacity crowd to the Savannah Center.

They also gave tentative approval for the $252.2 million budget. A final vote on both resolutions is scheduled for Sept. 24 at the Savannah Center after another 6 p.m. public hearing.

The votes to increase county property taxes for the first time in 14 years came after residents blasted the proposed tax hike during the first three-hour public hearing.

A proposed tax rate of $6.70 per $1,000 assessed valuation is 33 percent higher than the rollback rate of $5.03. The rollback rate is the amount needed to collect the same tax revenue as the prior year, not including new construction.

The owner of a home assessed at $200,000 after a $50,000 homestead exemption 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.

Sherry Duvall, of the Village of Gilchrist, told Sumter County commissioners on Tuesday night that Villagers aren’t happy having a budget ‘rammed down’ their throats.

After listening to residents, Commissioner Steve Printz made the motion to endorse the tax rate hike. He also defended a pay raise for commissioners and said the budget was the result of a solid planning process.

“We all know there are times when a tax reset is required,” he said. “In my view, if the county isn’t growing, it tends to stagnate and die.”

Villagers and area residents flocked to the Savannah Center on Tuesday night for a Sumter County Commission meeting where a plan to increase the millage rate and approve the 2019-20 budget were on the agenda.

County Administrator Bradley Arnold said this year’s rate hike could be the last increase needed for the next five years. But that didn’t satisfy residents who packed the Savannah Center.

A Villager holds up a sign during a controversial Sumter County Commission meeting at the Savannah Center on Tuesday night.

Some speakers vowed to oppose three commissioners up for election next year, while others questioned whether they received campaign contributions from The Villages Developer. A petition was circulated outside the meeting calling for a referendum on whether commissioners should run in separate districts instead of at large.

“What I don’t understand is why growth is not paying for the things that are in this budget,” said Deb Butterfield. “What I don’t understand is the lack of planning.”

Kathy Peppers said the tax increase will hurt all county residents, including renters.

“I’m asking each of you to seriously consider a ‘no’ vote on this,” she told the commissioners.

Civil engineer Dan Warren said county officials should have begun gradual tax increases four years ago instead of a large hike.

Villagers took turns Tuesday night telling Sumter County commissioners how they felt about a proposed tax increase of close to 25 percent.

“As our representatives, you should have said this is a ‘no go,’” he said. “You should have known that this proposed budget would create an outcry.”

Sherry Duvall said the developer should pay higher impact fees instead of putting the burden on county property owners.

“We are not happy with this budget being rammed down our throats,” she said.

Villagers and area residents who wished to address the Sumter County Commission about a proposed tax increase lined up on both sides of the Savannah Center on Tuesday night.

Ray Liberti, a former planning and zoning director in Palm Beach County, suggested commissioners adopt a continuing resolution to keep this year’s budget in place until an alternative can be developed.

“The budget process has been abdicated by elected officials to staff,” he said.
Bill Berry accused the commissioners of being “in the pocket of the Developer.”

Two speakers supported the proposed budget.

Villagers expressed a variety of concerns on Tuesday night before the Sumter County Commission voted to endorse a property tax rate increase of about 25 percent for the county’s 2019-2020 budget.