A final vote is more than 10 weeks away, but Sumter County commissioners Thursday expressed initial support for a proposed 2020-2021 budget presented by County Administrator Bradley Arnold.
The budget would feature a decrease of about 4 percent in the county tax rate to about $6.43 per $1,000 assessed valuation, down from $6.70 this year. Next year’s proposed rate would be the second highest since 2005, when the rate was $7.76.
The proposed tax rate is at the rolled back rate, which is the rate needed to collect the same amount of revenue from existing development as the prior year.
A 25 percent tax increase in this year’s budget generated outrage at two public hearings last September and pledges to unseat commissioners. The need for the increase was attributed to building new roads in the Villages of Southern Oaks and repaving Buena Vista and Morse boulevards.
Three commissioners, Don Burgess, Al Butler and Steve Printz, face opposition from several candidates in the Aug. 18 Republican primary election.
Next year’s proposed budget, effective when the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, calls for a 7.2 percent increase in general fund revenue to $133.9 million. Total revenue would be down 3.1 percent to $244.4 million due to a 28 percent decrease in special revenue funds to $57.9 million.
“I did build the budget around the rollback rate,” County Administrator Bradley Arnold told commissioners at their first workshop meeting on the upcoming budget. Another budget workshop session will be held at 9 a.m. Friday at the county service center in Wildwood.
Sumter County would add seven employees in the proposed budget, bringing the total number to 220.
Arnold said the county’s pace of economic growth was higher over the past year than he anticipated. The Villages added 2,606 homes since last July in the Villages of Southern Oaks. Another 398 homes were built by other developers along with 172 commercial buildings. Seven industrial facilities are under construction at the Governor Rick Scott Industrial Park, which is operated by The Villages.
“I think we’re on the cusp of seeing a lot more commercial activity moving forward,” Arnold said.
He said Sumter County has more consolidated services with cities than any other county in Florida.
Commissioner Doug Gilpin said he supported the rolled back tax rate.
“We have a long history of rolling back,” he said. “To me, we will roll back, roll back, roll back.”
He said the proposed budget is “a strong budget.”
Commissioner Don Burgess praised Arnold for managing a refinancing of about $22 million of the county’s debt at a lower interest rate and a shorter term of 15 instead of 20 years. The county’s total current debt would be paid off by 2035.
The proposed budget will be a good followup to the county’s “reset” budget last year that increased taxes, said Commissioner Steve Printz.
Printz encouraged the audience of fewer than 10 people to talk to county staff if they had budget questions so the proposed budget won’t be misrepresented to residents.