Impact fees are defined as a one time payment imposed by a local government on a property developer. The fee is meant to offset the financial impact a new development places on public infrastructure which include; roads, fire stations, schools, parks, recreation facilities, water and sewerage, among other services. The people who are opposed to any impact fee increase reasoned that raising impact fees would slow the growth that has enabled The Villages to become the fastest growing age-restricted community in the country for 11 straight years. They also assumed that if there were a slowdown in homes sold, there would also be a reduction in the number of businesses moving into Sumter County. Those opposed have no criteria to make that type of judgement because they have no other communities to compare us to. Sumter County is unique in that regard since almost all of the growth in the county is dictated by the growth of The Villages. The Daily Sun had a short article several weeks ago showing that even during a pandemic, new and preowned home sales grew by 30.1 percent in Sumter County, 3.8 percent in Marion County and dropped 7.1 percent in Lake County in January 2021.
Many Sumter County taxpayers including myself, do not believe that increasing the impact fees will have any impact on development at all. How can I say that? Just look at all the infrastructure already built south of State Road 44. Look how far east and west Meggison Road stretches. Look at all the land the developer has purchased south of State Road 44 where development hasn’t even begun. Is the developer going to abandon all that has already been put in place and start from scratch in another county. Not likely. Several weeks ago there was a very beautiful brochure along with three additional sections in the developer’s own newspaper showing where they are now building and where they expect to continue building. In their paper on Feb. 22, an article showed the new businesses that are open or opening in Magnolia Plaza next month. You know the names; Publix, Safe Ship, Citizens First Bank, Quest Diagnostics, Cora Physical Therapy, and others. When population in any given area increases, the businesses follow.
Please don’t misunderstand that I am against the Developer. I love living here and do not begrudge the Developer their continued expansion. Since the increase in impact fees is directly associated with the 2019 tax increase of 25 percent that created this “hornets nest” in the first place, we have to consider that tax increase when discussing impact fee increases. There were some Sumter County residents really impacted by the tax increase. However, there are very few Villagers who could not afford to pay a few more dollars in property taxes, including myself. So you ask why am I writing this article suggesting that impact fees should be raised and that the 25 percent tax hike should be fully rolled back? The answer is simply because it is the right thing to do. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
COMPETING WITH SURROUNDING COUNTIES
What do you believe would happen if the Developer decided to begin building The Villages in one of the surrounding counties? Besides abandoning what they already have in place in Sumter County, where are they going to find any very large contiguous land mass that already has the infrastructure in place to handle The Villages type community? Any other county they might look to begin a large scale community like ours would require all the same infrastructure that we are now building. Who is going to pay for that? Will that county look to its property taxpayers to finance those new roads and fire stations, etc. so that this big developer can build his new community in their county? I doubt it. That means that the developer will have to do it. Where is the advantage for the developer to move to another county? There is none!
I looked at the impact fees that the surrounding counties are charging and found that if Sumter County went to the full 100 percent impact fee level, Sumter would still be competitive with these other counties. Remember, the Sumter County rate is calculated only on the costs of the new roads and road improvements. All the other counties impact fees are calculated using ALL the additional costs generated by any new development. Not considered in all the debating that has been going on about this issue, is the property tax rates of these other counties. Just ask our fellow Villagers in Fruitland Park. The property taxes for those Villagers living in Lake County are more than $2000 higher than they are in Sumter County, and that is before any roll back in Sumter County. The board of county commissioners likes to take credit each year when they reduce the County tax rate. In actuality, these reductions are nothing more than the additional revenues generated by the new home sales every year.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
I believe I have made a reasonable case for the raising of the impact fees along with the full rolling back of the 2019 mistaken 25 percent tax increase. Remember, impact fees are paid only once; property taxes are paid EVERY year unless they are rolled back. It will probably take more than one year to fully roll back the tax increase, especially since we were hit with the tax increase in 2019 and the new 60 percent discounted impact fees did not become effective until October 2020, almost a full year after the 25 percent tax increase.
Last year we elected three new commissioners who ran on the platform of rolling back the tax hike and increasing the impact fees. Our new commissioners have been in office long enough to have accomplished their campaign pledge. Unfortunately, two of the three have held back on doing so. They have their reasons and I honestly believe they feel that they are justified in their thinking. However, I believe they have had enough time to do their homework on this issue and it is time to put it to bed. There are too many other issues that they have to deal with and to continue to waste time on this issue is disruptive to the community. I suggest letting the two Commissioners who are hesitant know that we voted for them in August and November and we expect them to honor their pledge. The addresses are; [email protected] and [email protected] The budgeting process will be on the county agenda soon, therefore it is imperative that they know what revenues they can expect from impact fees. If they wait until July as this issue has been deferred until, any new impact fee rate increase will be another year behind as it was two years ago.
Instead of spending all this time debating should we, shouldn’t we, pick a number and get it over with. Let’s make “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown” friendly again.
Jay Kaplan is a resident of the Village of Sabal Chase.