Sumter County commissioners surrendered Tuesday night in their intensive battle earlier this year to increase road impact fees.
They voted unanimously to schedule a July 13 public hearing to repeal an ordinance raising fees and maintain current levels.
In March, commissioners voted 3-2 to hike fees by 75 percent, which would have become effective June 28.
But a recently enacted state law, effective July 1 but retroactive to last Jan. 1, restricts single impact fee increases to 12.5 percent. The legislation was cosponsored by State Rep. Brett Hage, R-33, who receives a six-figure annual salary from The Villages, which pays the highest amount of impact fees due to its aggressive development.
Under the March ordinance, The Villages Developer would have paid $1,701 per single-family lot in the age-restricted development, up from the current amount of $972.
County Attorney Jennifer Rey told commissioners they could go ahead with the March ordinance in defiance of state law and let the courts sort out the issue, but she recommended against it.
“We don’t think you have a basis to challenge the constitutionality of the statute,” she said.
In a seven-page memo analyzing the impact of the state law on the county ordinance, Rey wrote that commissioners should rescind the impact fee increases.
“In light of the changes to the statute posed by the legislation, now that it has become law, Sumter County’s recently adopted impact fee ordinance would not meet the standards set forth in the legislation,” she wrote. “Sumter County would need to reconsider its impact fee ordinance in light of the new requirements.”
Commissioner Doug Gilpin, who opposed the impact fee increases, said Sumter County should remain “business friendly” and “welcome people.”
But Commissioner Gary Search, who voted for the increases, said conservatives should be both “pro-business and pro-people” and he criticized the state law.
“It also placed a tremendous tax burden on the people,” he said. “It does not represent the people really well, but we have to comply with state law.”
Along with commissioners Oren Miller and Craig Estep, Search was elected last year, ousting three incumbent commissioners over a 25 percent property tax rate increase in 2019. The three challengers pledged to raise impact fees so the Developer would pay more and ease the burden of road construction costs on county property owners.
Part of the reason for the large tax rate increase was the county’s need to finance road construction and repair for the massive expansion of The Villages south of State Road 44 to the city limits of Center Hill.
Overflow crowds, including construction workers and small business owners, appeared at public hearings earlier this year to protest impact fee increases.