By a 4-1 vote, Sumter County commissioners Tuesday night rejected an offer by The Villages to pay higher road impact fees on homes built in the Village of Southern Oaks south of State Road 44.
Commissioners Doug Gilpin cast the lone vote in favor of the proposal. Voting against it were commissioners Garry Breeden, Craig Estep, Oren Miller and Gary Search.
In a letter sent last week to Commission Chairman Breeden, Villages Vice President Gary Lester said The Villages would agree to a 40 percent impact fee hike. The proposed agreement would run through Oct. 1, 2022.
Impact fees are a one-time charge paid by developers or property owners for new projects or expansion. The revenue is used to pay for roads or other infrastructure costs.
The Villages now pays a county fee of $972 for each single-family detached home. The proposal would have raised the fee to $1,372, less than the $2,430 recommended in a 2019 study.
An agreement with The Villages would have allowed the county to raise fees on The Villages property without increasing fees for other types of projects.
But commissioners said the amount offered by The Villages is not enough .
“I think the rate proposed is way too low and I think it ties our legislative hands for 3½ years,” said Search.
Estep asked County Administrator Bradley Arnold to prepare an analysis of increasing impact fees in 5 percent increments from the current level of 40 percent to 100 percent of the recommended amount.
Gilpin said people have a lot of misinformation about fees and property taxes.
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Despite continuing complaints about a 25 percent tax-rate increase in 2019, Gilpin said Sumter County residents won’t see another tax hike for five years and most new residents pay less than they did up north.
Last month, commissioners postponed a decision on a fee increase until July due to the pandemic. Construction workers and small business owners packed the meeting to protest any increase.
Before voting on The Villages proposal, commissioners heard residents speak on both sides of the issue.
“I am for the developer and I am for Sumer County working with the developer,” said Liz Roberts. “If the developer is reaching out to you, I think you should have an open mind and listen.”
But Joan Pike said the commissioners “took an oath to work for the residents and not the developer.”
Debora Butterfield said commissioners should wait to make a decision.
“I think it’s a good sign that the developer has offered a compromise,” she said. “I hope it’s an opening negotiation and not a ‘take it or leave it’ offer.”
Gilbert Windsor said no one believes The Villages would stop building even if the fee was $20,000 per home.
When commissioners raised the Sumter County property tax rate by 25 percent in 2019, angry homeowners at public hearings said the county should increase impact fees instead of the tax rate. Three incumbent commissioners were ousted in last year’s elections over this issue.