Sumter County commissioners will host a return engagement at the Savannah Center on Tuesday for their final meeting on a proposed 25 percent tax hike that has sent shock waves throughout The Villages.
In anticipation of large crowds, the commission booked the Savannah Center for two meetings, the first of which was held Sept. 10 and drew a boisterous crowd. In fact, that meeting, which lasted about three and a half hours, included shouts of “shame on you” from the hundreds in attendance as the five commissioners – Chairman Don Burgess, Al Butler, Doug Gilpin, Garry Breeden and Steve Printz – gave their preliminary approval to the tax hike and a $252.2 million budget.
During the Sept. 10 meeting, a large group of Villagers and other area residents expressed their disdain with the proposed tax rate of $6.70 per $1,000 assessed valuation. That rate is 33 percent higher than the millage rollback rate of $5.03 – the amount needed to collect the same tax revenue as the prior year, not including new construction.
The tax increase would be the first passed in Sumter County in 14 years and commissioners have told residents it’s necessary because of several issues, the largest of which is providing infrastructure in the new Southern Oaks section of The Villages.
County Administrator Bradley Arnold said road improvements and a new fire station on Morse Boulevard, south of State Road 44, are examples of infrastructure that precede development revenue. He’s also explained that other major budget expenses include the resurfacing of Morse and Buena Vista boulevards to the tune of about $34.8 million. And construction along Warm Springs Avenue in the Villages of Southern Oaks also is part of the issue, he said.
But that explanation didn’t fly with the somewhat unruly crowd, many of whom made their feelings quite clear. They said it isn’t fair for the cost of infrastructure in The Villages to be put on their backs. And they suggested the commission shares a much-too-close relationship with the Developer.
“I guess you and the Developer have gotten together and you guys have really put the whammy on us,” said Bill Berry, of the Village of Buttonwood.
Daniel Myslakowski, of the Village of Lake Deaton, pointed out that late Villages Developer H. Gary Morse had promised to stop building new homes at SR 44, which would have avoided this problem altogether. He said that plan clearly changed after Morse died in October 2014.
“The kids took over and now it’s damn the torpedoes full steam ahead,” he said of the fourth generation Morse family members who have become heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the mega-retirement community.
Villager Sherry Duvall suggested the Developer should pay higher impact fees to fund the infrastructure in his community rather than having the burden spread across taxpayers. And she singled out the three Villages commissioners whose terms expire in November 2020.
“You are sticking it to us and hopefully we will return the favor at election time,” she said to a long round of applause.
Since that meeting, two Villagers have announced plans to run against Printz, who made the motion to endorse the tax rate hike.
The first was Charles Kasner, of the Village of Dunedin. He spoke out during the first Savannah Center meeting and later said he was “appalled” by the actions of the commission.
The second Villager to announce his desire to fill the commission seat was Oren Miller, who ran as a Democrat this past fall in the Florida House District 33 race and was easily defeated by political newcomer Brett Hage. Miller, known for his high-profile role with Lost Pets of The Villages that he runs along with his wife, Angie Fox, announced this time around that he is running as a Republican, which will create a three-way race in next year’s GOP primary.
Tuesday’s commission meeting begins at 6 p.m. The Savannah Center is on the east side of Buena Vista Boulevard, just south of El Camino Real.