The Sumter County Commission’s decision to raise property taxes by 25 percent was the No. 1 story of 2019 in The Villages.
Emotions ran raw in September when the commissioners – despite hearing cat calls, pot shots, rational arguments and flat-out anger from boisterous crowds – voted for the whopping tax increase.
The move came after a contentious meeting at the Savannah Center on Sept. 24 that saw a myriad of Villagers and area residents speak out against the plan. That meeting followed a similar one on Sept. 10 where shouts of “shame on you” could be heard from the sometimes unruly packed-house crowd at the Savannah Center.
Residents at both of those meetings and several earlier gatherings were upset after learning that the massive tax hike was largely needed for infrastructure improvements in the fast-growing Southern Oaks section of The Villages, as well as about $34.8 million to resurface Morse and Buena Vista boulevards.
The five commissioners were quickly accused of being in the pockets of The Villages Developer.
“I guess you and the Developer have gotten together and you guys have really put the whammy on us,” Village of Buttonwood resident Bill Berry said.
Villager Sherry Duvall said the Developer should pay higher impact fees to fund the infrastructure in his community instead of putting it on the backs of all Sumter County residents – many of whom will never even go to the new portions of The Villages. She also pointed out that many residents are aware commissioners have close ties to the Morse family – three of them are Villagers and one works for a company that pours concrete slabs and pools in the community.
“You are sticking it to us and hopefully we will return the favor at election time,” she said to a long round of applause.
Daniel Myslakowski, of the Village of Lake Deaton, took aim at an article titled Property Taxes 101 that was printed in the Developer-owned Daily Sun on Sept. 8. It featured then-Commission Chairman Don Burgess attempting to justify the tax increase.
“It reminds me of the Paul Newman movie ‘The Sting,’” Myslakowski said. “Not fact checked. Fake news.”
Myslakowski also pointed out that late Villages Developer H. Gary Morse had promised to stop building new homes at SR 44 and had even been quoted in his Developer-owned newspaper making that pledge. But once Morse died in October 2014, Myslakowski said, that promise vanished.
“The kids took over and now it’s damn the torpedoes full steam ahead,” he said.
Despite all of the complaints, all five commissioners – Burgess, Al Butler, Doug Gilpin, Steve Printz and Garry Breeden – voted to approve the tax increase. The following month they suggested during a regularly scheduled meeting that “very few” had complained about the tax hike and later dispatched County Administrator Bradley Arnold to speak before members of the Property Owners Association. And four Villagers – Charles Kasner, Oren Miller, Gary Search and Craig Estep – announced plans to run for county commission seats in 2020.