Three hours of cat calls, pot shots, insults and rational arguments weren’t enough Tuesday night to persuade Sumter County commissioners to back off a 25 percent property tax hike.
After the public hearing, commissioners voted to set the tax rate at $6.70 per $1,000 assessed valuation, a 25 percent increase over last year’s rate and 33 percent higher than the rollback rate of $5.03. The rollback rate is the amount needed to collect the same 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 next year in county property taxes, up $204.53 from this year. A property owner’s tax bill also includes fees for schools and municipal government.
Road projects are one area driving the higher taxes. The county is resurfacing Morse and Buena Vista boulevards and plans to spend $19.3 million on a Buena Vista extension into the Villages of Southern Oaks. Other projects include Corbin Trail, Fenney Way and Warm Springs Avenue.
Eight sheriff’s office employees will be added to provide school security and to handle more 911 call dispatching duties now that Wildwood has turned over the service to the county. Commissioner salaries will rise 9.8 percent. The county, which handles fire protection services, also recently added a new fire station on Morse Boulevard south of State Road 44.
The tax hike is the first in 15 years for Sumter County property owners, and despite the increase, county property taxes remain among the lowest in the state.
But those facts did not provide solace to angry residents who said The Villages Developer should pay for regional roads like the Buena Vista extension instead of county property taxpayers.
Board chairman Don Burgess said road building is different south of State Road 44 because the entire area is in Wildwood. The Developer built roads north of SR 44 and then turned them over to the county for maintenance.
Two speakers said they plan to challenge commissioners Burgess, Al Butler or Steve Printz, who are up for election next year.
Scott Fenstermaker said Sumter County is giving the Developer “a sweet deal” on development impact fees. In Collier County, which includes Naples and Marco, developers pay impact fees of $20,000 for a 2,000-square-foot home. Fees are about $900 per home in the Villages of Southern Oaks, but higher in Sumter County areas that are not age-restricted.
“I prefer an incremental approach where the Developer pays for new roads,” said Daniel Myslakowski, a former county commissioner. “We don’t need a new rapid surge of growth.”
Shannon Kelley said commissioners are enhancing profits for the Developer by putting the regional road cost on property owners.
“Are you trying to squeeze the average person out of the county and make a Palm Beach-style enclave?” she asked.
Bernhard Guenther said commissioners should not “saddle the taxpayer with your incompetence and lack of planning.”
Shanna Carlton, of Webster, said she lives on her monthly $1,300 Social Security check and may have to put her rural house up for sale because of the higher taxes.
Yvonne Moore, who retired from Miami in 2013, said she can no longer encourage her friends to move to The Villages because of the tax increase.
By voting for the tax hike, Marsha Shearer said commissioners are failing to represent the citizens.
“You represent the loudest voice and the biggest pocketbook in the county,” she said.
Carol Nichols said her only income is Social Security, a small pension and money from her retirement account and it will be difficult for her to afford the tax increase.
“I think there should be a better way to pay for the roads,” she said. “I think the Developer should pay for the roads.”
Matt Gerig, president of the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, was booed when he praised The Villages Developer for creating jobs through the community’s expansion.
But Nichols suggested the Developer should move his operation to Alabama or Texas.
“They should take their cement trucks and drive there one-way,” she said.