Sumter County commissioners Tuesday night adopted a $241.7-million budget for 2020-21 that is about 4 percent less than last year’s budget.
Before an audience of seven people, commissioners also approved a tax rate of about $6.43 per $1,000 assessed valuation. The rate is at the rollback rate and a 4 percent decrease from last year’s rate of $6.70. The rollback rate is the amount needed to collect the same revenue as the prior year excluding new construction.
The low-key final budget hearing was a stark contrast to last year, when hundreds of people packed two hearings at the Savannah Center to protest a 25 percent rate increase.
Some people vowed at those hearings to oust commissioners and three, Don Burgess, Al Butler and Steve Printz, were defeated in the August primary election.
No members of the public spoke at either of this year’s budget hearings.
County Administrator Bradley Arnold said Sumter County and The Villages continue to be the fastest growing metropolitan area in the nation. The latest population estimate of 141,422 is up nearly 10 percent or 12,789 from a year ago.
A 7 percent increase in the general fund to $133.7 million is offset by decreases in special revenue and reserve funds.
Despite a residential and commercial construction boom, especially in the Villages of Southern Oaks, the county faces challenges with decreases in state revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state cut shared revenues by $2.4 million over two months along with an estimated $6.1 million reduction in other state shared revenue and local sales taxes.
Public safety costs have gone up 16 percent and the county has taken over emergency dispatching for Wildwood and other municipalities.
Arnold said the fire protection maximum fee cap may need to be raised next year. Current fees are $124 per parcel, which is $1 below the fee cap.
The budget adds 11 new positions, bringing the county work force to 714 employees. Filling some of the new positions will be delayed until November, Arnold said.
A second drive-up kiosk for the county tax collector on County Road 466 is among capital projects planned for next year. A new fire station along State Road 44 in west Wildwood is expected to be completed soon.
Arnold said federal CARES Act funding may be used to build the kiosk unless construction is delayed past Dec. 31, when all unused CARES Act money must be returned to the state.
“This budget supports the commitments to the increased capital investments in facilities and regional roadways to encourage further capital investment from private sources for sustained economic prosperity in Sumter County,” Arnold wrote in a budget letter to commissioners.