Commission pushes tax increase through

Tax-increase opponents held signs outside of the Sumter County Commission meeting, fearing a 150% hike in road impact fees. Commissioners ultimately voted to raise the tax on new business by 75%.

State Republican leaders are poised to offer hope to businesses that local commissioners won’t: protection from a tax increase they say would cripple the pandemic recovery.

The Florida House on Wednesday voted 94-23 to roll back recent increases to impact fees on new construction.

A companion bill is expected to sail through the Senate under the sponsorship of Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who is chairman of the Florida Republican Party.

Gov. Ron DeSantis could then sign it into law in the coming days.

The move would be a big win for new businesses in Sumter County, where three newly elected commissioners reneged on a promise to study road impact fees over the summer and instead raised them by 75% last month.

Craig Estep, Oren Miller and Gary Search pushed the hike through with a 3-2 vote after rejecting an offer from The Villages Developer to pay 40% more on each home it builds in exchange for sparing new businesses elsewhere in the county for three years.

The new law would limit impact fee increases to 12.5% in one year and 50% over four years.

That rule would be retroactive to Jan. 1, voiding the Estep-Miller-Search tax increase.

Rep. Nick DiCeglie of Pinellas County, the House bill sponsor, said “a relief valve” would exist for local governments that can convince voters of a need to go higher.

“That requires a study within the last 12 months, two public workshops and a two-thirds vote,” he said.

In Sumter County, that bar was not met.

Local Republican representatives Sen. Dennis Baxley and Rep. Brett Hage have expressed support for the measure, with Hage co-sponsoring DiCeglie’s bill.

“As a Republican, I’m committed to defending the taxpayers from big government which seeks to take more and more money and more and more of our freedoms,” said Hage, who works as vice president of residential development for The Villages.

“I’m proud to stand with Gov. DeSantis and with the taxpayers of the state to say stop with the runaway taxing and spending, stop with the excess regulation of private business, stop with the constant grabs for power by politicians who think they know better than the people they serve. Florida is a pro-business, conservative state and under strong conservative leadership,  we’re going to stay that way.”

The Estep-Miller-Search tax increase dismissed the advice of economists, business leaders and the county’s own economic development staff.

“Kudos to Gov. DeSantis, Sen. Baxley, Rep. Hage and our other Republican leaders in Tallahassee,” said John Temple, chairman of the Sumter County Republican Party. “The bill gives reasonable flexibility to local governments while curtailing extreme hikes like the 75% increase that our three new commissioners pushed through without taking into consideration consequences of their rushed action. Hopefully, the commissioners will take the opportunity to go back and look at other options that will better serve all of Sumter County,” Temple said. “We want leadership who value Republican principles and have a more conservative approach going forward.”

Specialty Editor David R. Corder can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.