The Background of the 25 percent Property Tax Hike. In case any readers still don’t know about the Developer’s sweetheart impact fee and our huge property-tax hike to preserve it, they can watch this video, recorded at the County Commissioner’s hearing on September 24, 2019– as the Developer’s puppets on the Commission were about to hike our property tax 25 percent to preserve that sweetheart fee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQiReUkH_V4
As a result of that property-tax increase, we the voters of Sumter County, last year, woke up to what had been going on and tossed out the three Developer’s puppet Commissioners (Butler, Burgess, and Printz) who were up for re-election, and we voted in the EMS team of Estep, Miller, and Search. We did so on the basis of a promise by Estep, Miller, and Search to roll back the property tax hike by requiring the Developer to pay for his own county infrastructure through a reasonable impact fee.
Now this tax-reform process is in doubt.
The Developer’s Efforts to Keep His Sweetheart Impact Fee. This process is in doubt because the Developer is doing everything in his power to preserve his sweetheart impact fee. He is lobbying the County Commissioners, packing a Commission meeting with his contractors and allies, filling the meeting parking lot with his contractors’ heavy equipment so there were no parking spaces for the public, and running a series of propaganda articles in his newspaper vilifying impact fees. His latest ploy is an attempt to “voluntarily” raise his sweetheart road impact fee by 40 percent in exchange for protection from imposition from any other impact-fee increases. Well, a 40 percent increase of his sweetheart road impact fee won’t come close to covering the costs of all county infrastructure that the Developer should be paying for.
A Comparison of Impact Fees. It is interesting to compare the impact fees that the Developer would pay in Collier County (where his puppets do not set impact fees) with what he pays in Sumter County:
In Collier County, the builder of a retirement community would pay impact fees for:
- Community Parks,
- Regional Parks,
- Government Buildings,
- Law Enforcement,
- Sewer, and
The total of these impact fees in Collier County is approximately $24,000/house, the exact amount depending on where in the county it is built.
In Sumter County, the Developer pays an impact fee of only $972 for roads. (This is only 40 percent of what the impact-fee study calculated each of his houses is costing the county for new roads). THE DEVELOPER PAYS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING FOR THE OTHER INFRASTRUCTURE that Collier County collects for. Who pays for all the stuff that the Developer doesn’t pay for? We, the residents (individuals and existing businesses), do. The Daily Sun articles claim that reasonable impact fees in Sumter County would “paralyze” growth here. Nonsense. The impact fees are 25 times higher in Collier County, and growth there has not been “paralyzed.” Reasonable impact fees allow lower property taxes and are good for the economy. For the truth about the economic benefit of paying for new infrastructure via impact fees, check out this report: https://www.brookings.edu/research/paying-for-prosperity-impact-fees-and-job-growth/
What Voters Can Do Now to Get Our Property Tax Rolled Back. If the EMS Team had stuck together and stuck to their promises, with 3 of the 5 Commissioners, the process would have started already. But, for some reason, Mr. Estep voted with the remaining two Developer puppets (Gilpin and Breeden) to delay even considering the necessary impact-fee increase for six months. After Mr. Estep was criticized by the public for his vote, Mr. Search came to his defense, calling voters who believed Mr. Estep’s campaign promise of tax reform “ill-informed”. https://www.villages-news.com/2021/01/30/commissioner-craig-estep-unfairly-targeted-by-ill-informed-critics/ In light of the Developer’s brazen proposal to set his own tax rate, it looks like the Developer thinks that he has flipped at least one member of the EMS Team and thus controls at least 3 of the 5 votes.
Given the fact that the Developer feels confident enough about his influence over the County Commission to believe that he can set his own tax rate, what can we, the voters, do to successfully roll back the massive property-tax increase? I have to admit: I don’t know.
The Sad Conclusion. The sad truth is that we won the battle by voting out the Developer’s puppets (Butler, Burgess, and Printz). However, in light of Mr. Estep’s vote and Mr. Search’s defense of him, the Developer may have won the war. Probably all we can do is contact Messrs. Estep and Search and insist they keep their promise to us. We can also contact Mr. Miller and thank him for keeping his. Contact information is available here: https://www.sumtercountyfl.gov/67/About-the-Commissioners Obviously, contacting Messrs. Gilpin or Breeden would be a waste of time. We have to vote them out next year.
Villager Scott Fenstermaker is a frequent contributor to Villages-News.com.