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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Huge crowd attends final Sumter County hearing on 25 percent tax hike

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.

Sumter County commissioners prepare to begin Tuesday night’s meeting at the Savannah Center, where Villagers and other residents expressed their disdain over a proposed 25 percent tax increase.

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.

Jack Gaenzle, of the Village of St. James, told Sumter County commissioners on Tuesday night that The Villages Developer should foot the bill to extend Buena Vista Boulevard.

The Sumter County Commission – Al Butler, Garry Breeden, Don Burgess, Steve Printz and Doug Gilpin – heard from many area residents Tuesday night who were upset about a 25 percent tax increase.

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.

Villagers and other area residents wait their turn to address the Sumter County Commission during Tuesday night’s controversial meeting at the Savannah Center.

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.

Jack Gaenzle, of the Village of St. James, returns to his seat after expressing his feelings about a 25 percent tax hike on Tuesday night.

“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.

Gilbert Windsor, of the Village of Bonita, told commissioners he believed their decision to support a 25 percent tax increase was a ‘done deal’ before Tuesday night’s meeting ever started.

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.

Daniel Myslakowski, of the Village of Lake Deaton, criticized Sumter County commissioners for supporting a tax increase even though many residents aren’t in favor of the move.

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.”

Shannon Kelley, of the Village of Mallory Square, told commissioners they must vote against the “anti-citizen, exorbitant” tax increase.

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.

Those who attended Tuesday night’s Sumter County Commission meeting frequently cheered for speakers and made their disgust known about a 25 percent tax increase that was later approved.

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