Fair Government for Sumter. It is said, “All politics is local”, but in Sumter County local politics could harm the entire State of Florida. Fair Government for Sumter (“FG4S”) is a state-registered political action committee, which was formed in 2019 with one main purpose. That purpose was to replace the five Sumter County Commissioners (all of whom had been elected with the financial backing and political support of The Villages Developer) with independent, thoughtful, qualified candidates who would put Sumter County residents, not The Villages Developer, FIRST. In 2020, with our support, the voters of Sumter County replaced 3 of the 5 “Developer’s Commissioners” with Craig Estep, Oren Miller, and Gary Search (known as the “EMS Team” in a landslide victory with a two to one majority. The voters spoke!
The 25 percent Sumter County Property Tax Hike. This reform movement by the residents of Sumter County was provoked by a 25 percent increase in Sumter County property taxes. That massive tax hike was enacted by The Villages Developer’s Commissioners in 2019, in order to protect the sweetheart deal that the Villages Developer was enjoying on impact fees. As you may know, impact fees are a one-time charge levied on developers in order to pay for local governmental infrastructure necessitated by the new development. The Villages Developer pays only 40 percent of the cost of new roads and 0 percent for other infrastructure like fire, law enforcement, libraries, government buildings, parks, etc.
The Efforts by The Villages Developer to Preserve His Sweetheart Impact Fee. In an attempt to preserve his sweetheart impact fee, The Villages Developer has launched a lobbying campaign with the Sumter County Commission, as well as a propaganda campaign in his wholly-owned newspaper, The Villages Daily Sun. However, now apparently in fear of losing the local battle in Sumter County, The Villages Developer is behind proposed statewide legislation (House Bill 337 and Senate Bill 750) that will prejudice not only Sumter County residents but residents throughout Florida. Despite his obvious conflict of interest, the House Bill is being cosponsored by Rep. Brett Hage, an employee of one of the major suppliers of The Villages Developer.
The Effect of Passage of House Bill 337 and Senate Bill 750. These bills, if enacted into law, will severely restrict the ability of all local governments to impose impact fees and will limit their increase to 3 percent per year. This means that throughout Florida, residents will be paying, through higher county taxes, for governmental infrastructure that developers should be paying for through impact fees. It is argued these bills are pro-business, but in fact passage of these bills will slow business as local governments will lack the taxing ability needed to build the infrastructure that is necessary for business expansion. As awareness of the pernicious effect of these two bills has spread, passage is being opposed by the Florida League of Cities and by many who see these bills as blatant infringement on the power of local governments to govern.
The Need for Citizen Action. Despite the fact that these bills would be detrimental to the residents of Florida, they have received very little public attention and could well be enacted into law in light of the powerful special interest promoting them. More information can be found in the following news article: https://www.villages-news.com/2021/03/08/rep-hage-co-sponsors-bill-to-help-the-villages-avoid-impact-fee-hike/ Concerned citizens should contact their state legislators and tell them to vote NO on House Bill 337 and Senate Bill 750.
Villager Reed Panos is chairman of Fair Government for Sumter.