Sumter Commission comes up short on tax decrease promise

The property tax rate and budget will become final following a second public hearing on Sept. 28 at Everglades Regional Recreation Complex.

Sumter County residents will save a little more on property taxes, but nowhere near the 25% rollback that was the campaign banner of three new commissioners.

The Sumter Commission on Tuesday approved a tentative property tax rate of $6.15 per $1,000 of assessed value, which is a 4.37% decrease from the current rate.

Commissioners originally were eyeing a rate of $6.24 following budget workshops in July, but lowered it further after learning of a $3.7 million surplus in road impact fees.

Commissioners Craig Estep, Oren Miller and Gary Search ran a collaborative campaign that advertised rolling back the rest of a 25% property tax rate increase enacted in 2019.

Instead, the decrease will be about equal to the decrease enacted last year by the previous board.

Under the new rate, a property owner with a home with an assessed value of $200,000 would pay about $56 less than last year.

The decrease is “nothing to blow your horn over” said Don Wiley, of the Village of Hillsborough.

“Some of you up there rolled in on a wave of outrage over a 25% tax increase several years ago,” he said during public comments. “What I haven’t heard from anyone is any effort to roll some of that back. I’ve heard, ‘let’s raise taxes, we’re going to raise the impact fee.’ Well, we got some education this year that impact fees can’t go to the general fund. What was proposed by any of you to reduce the costs, to reduce expenditures? I haven’t seen anything, gentlemen.”

Miller blamed the failure on a new state law that voided a 75% increase on road impact fees that he, Estep and Search pushed through earlier in the year.

He did not respond to Wiley’s question about cutting spending or explain why Team EMS did not pursue the 12.5% increase the new law does allow.

Before the law was passed, the three new commissioners rejected, without negotiation, an offer from The Villages Developer to pay 40% more in road impact fees on every age-restricted home it builds in exchange for sparing new businesses elsewhere in the county from the tax increase.

On Tuesday, the commission also approved the tentative budget for fiscal-year 2021-22 of about $316.2 million, an increase of about $74.5 million or about 30% from the current year.

Much of that increase will be paid for by the $25.7 million awarded to the county via the federal American Rescue Plan Act for COVID-19 relief.

Commissioner Doug Gilpin had suggested those  funds be used to shore up ambulance equipment in the county, but half of it has been earmarked for water/sewer projects. Neighboring Lake County already is using those federal funds to improve ambulance service there.

An expansion of broadband services is under consideration for the other half.

A second public hearing on the budget will be held Sept. 28 before it takes effect on Oct. 1.