|Article published Jul 3, 2004
Villages boards hoping to raise fees to fund roadwork
Supporters hope One Sumter vote changes the balance of power
THE VILLAGES - The elected boards for two Villages government bodies in Sumter County proposed increases in residents' annual maintenance assessments Friday in the wake of the County Commission's decision to reduce the contract amount for a road right of way maintenance agreement.
At times during the meetings for Community Development Districts No. 2 and 3, the political rhetoric heated up, tying the reduced contract amount to the Aug. 31 One Sumter referendum. The referendum will ask voters if they want to see a return to countywide elections for commission candidates.
"I think you have a chance in August to cast a vote to change that structure so they become more accountable," said Community Development District No. 3 Chairman Steve Drake, also a vice president for The Villages developer.
Some in The Villages camp have argued the road maintenance agreement fueled the need for One Sumter, noting that Sumter commissioners Joey Chandler and Jim Roberts, whose districts do not include The Villages, were the most vocal critics of a prior $5,000 a mile agreement covering 63 miles of roads for a total $315,000 price tag for Sumter. The reduced contract amount, $4,487 for 8.2 miles of thoroughfares, was passed unanimously. Chairman Benny Strickland and Commissioner Billy "Tiny" Rutter, whose districts do include The Villages, voted for it after pressing for a higher amount.
Friday, CDD No. 2 proposed a budget for fiscal year 2004-05 that includes an average maintenance assessment increase of $36.31 or about 14.59 percent. CDD No. 3 proposed an increase of about $11.23 or 4.51 percent. Last week, the board for CDD No. 1 already approved a planned increase of 23 percent or $54.92. Villages government Administrator Pete Wahl said if the county sticks to the new contract amount, which while reduced is higher than Villages staff originally anticipated, those proposed increases will also be slightly reduced.
CDD No. 2 Supervisor Art Terrill argued that because the well manicured landscaping in The Villages boosts home sales, perhaps the developer could contribute to upkeep and make up for the revenue lost from the reduced county contract without raising resident assessments.
"If I was selling a lot of property because of it, I would think of pitching in," Terrill said.
Wahl said because the community development districts own the common property within their boundaries, landscaping and maintenance was the responsibility of the CDD governing boards and the developer had no obligation to contribute. But neither, he said, does Sumter County.
"The County Commission is under no obligation to fund anything," he said.
Roberts, meanwhile, argued in a phone interview after the meeting that the One Sumter reference at the meeting was misguided since the vote to reduce the contract was unanimous. He also questioned whether the criticism of the county commission missed the purpose of a community development district under state law.
"There are community development districts created to allow residents to have a higher level of service than the county would normally allow," Roberts said. "They determined the level of landscaping and maintenance they want, not the county. They have to determine how to pay for it."
Despite the current debate, Sumter's arrangement with The Villages, funded by gas tax revenues, is unique. Marion County, Lady Lake and Lake County do not pay The Villages anything for right of way maintenance. The prior agreement also covered 55 miles of roadways in neighborhoods, including many residential lawns which homeowners are required to mow and maintain under deed restrictions. Those roads have been removed under the new contract.
"If I were a resident, the question I would have is why did the district accept money from the county for work being done by the residents," Roberts said. "I think they're entitled to a little restitution there."
But Wahl said removing all neighborhood roadways will deliver a "substantial hit " to district budgets because there is common right of way in subdivision areas not in front of homes which the district will take on the cost to maintain with no reimbursement. This fiscal year, Community Development Districts No. 1, 2, and 3 combined spent more than $1 million on landscaping and maintenance, with funding coming from resident assessments and the Sumter County road maintenance agreement.
Christopher Curry covers regional issues and can be
contacted at chris.curry
|The Villages wants $267,504.09 for 8.2 miles of mowing
Published June 17. 2004 7:30AM
Courtesey The Reporter in The Villages
BY BILL KOCH
THE VILLAGES - The Villages had some good news and some bad news for Sumter County commissioners on Tuesday concerning ongoing disputes over how much the county should pay the retirement community to maintain roadsides.
The good news: The Villages is only interested in having the county reimburse the community for 8.2 miles of roads instead of 63 miles. Since 1999 the county had been paying The Villages $5,000 per mile - about $315,000 a year - to maintain rights of way in the community.
The bad news: The Villages wants the county to fork over $32,622.45 per mile, per year, for a total of $267,504.09. The reason: Those roads are considered urban and, as such, require higher levels of maintenance than the county's other 549 miles of roads.
Working with county planning and finance officials, The Villages last week examined how much other governments in Florida pay to maintain roadsides. In Sumter County outside The Villages, maintenance consists almost entirely of mowing.
"We're trying to get a number everyone can live with," said Commissioner Benny Strickland, who has attended meetings in Bushnell between county staff and officials of The Villages. "The problem I'm having is, what do we as a county pay for?"
According to interim Public Works Director Tommy Hurst, the county should have been paying The Villages $461 per mile for each cut, the same amount it spends to maintain county roads outside The Villages.
The issue at this stage of the dispute between officials of the county and The Villages is how many times those areas are mowed.
Hurst said roadsides should be mowed seven times a year, which means at the $461.65 figure the county would pay The Villages $26,498.71 for 8.2 miles. The county on average cuts roadsides seven times per year and spends $3,231.55 per mile per year in areas outside The Villages.
Pete Wahl, administrator of The Villages Center Community Development District, said the per-mile figure should be $932.07 per mile for the 8.2 miles of main urban roads in the community, except The Villages requires the roadsides be mowed 35 times a year.
Wahl's figures include costs for fertilizer, herbicides, fungicides and irrigation.
The commission on Tuesday agreed to continue the current agreement with The Villages, which stipulates $5,000 per mile per year for the 63 miles until other figures can be devised. Commissioners Jim Roberts and Joey Chandler voted against continuing the contract with The Villages. Roberts wanted to wait until better numbers could be devised; Chandler said he thought county code should be revised to reflect a uniform standard for all developers or homeowners associations who are interested in similar arrangements with the county.
"Just as long as we do for everyone what we do for one," Chandler said.
The commission voted unanimously to have county staff meet with The Villages to devise more specific figures. The commission also unanimously approved Roberts' motion to continue the current contract with The Villages while officials negotiate further.
The motion allows the county to pay The Villages for this year; the county last paid the community in July 2003.
Commissioners clashed several times during the meeting, with Commissioner Billy Rutter insisting early on that the board discuss the matter before Villages Community Development Districts 1, 2 and 3 begin assembling their budgets next month.
"It's gone far enough," Rutter said.
At one point in the meeting, board chairman Strickland became exasperated and insisted The Villages' three main roads - El Camino Real, Morse Boulevard and Buenos Aires Boulevard - were unique to the county and deserved higher levels of service.
"I'm telling you, it's an urban road," he said. "You are going to spend that money on an urban road."
In gathering their figures, officials of The Villages obtained costs from other local governments around the state. Tallahassee pays $500 per mile to maintain roadsides, while Weston paid $500,000, officials said.
Bill Koch covers The Villages for The Reporter. He can be reached at 1-800-255-4105 or email@example.com.
Residents brace for explosive growth on CR 466
Published June 13. 2004 7:30AM
BY CHRISTOPHER CURRY
OXFORD - Near the site of the proposed Interstate 75 exit at County Road 466, The Villages has spent in the range of $3.5 million buying up land according to Sumter County records, planning to capitalize on a future commercial district including a hotel, convenience stores and a welcome center for the retirement community.
Roughly five miles east on CR 466, businessman Scott Browning has a more humble vision for a commercial strip along the south side of CR 466 west of U.S. 301. Browning envisions antique shops and professional offices that could line the roadway and cater to the surging Villages population.
"I think this whole area along here would be perfect for that kind of thing, with professional offices, attorneys, CPAs, insurance agents," he said.
Browning and his family are already getting a foothold on the potential development boom that could follow the interchange construction and CR 466 widening to four lanes in coming years.
In 2002, he purchased a home at 3797 E. CR 466 for $74,900 and renovated it from "terrible" condition into offices for his financial analysis business. Recently, his wife and brother-in-law purchased a old vacant house at the intersection of CR 466 and Northeast 36th Avenue for $68,000, with the intention of renovating it to lease as professional office space.
When that plan went before the Sumter County Commission in late May, neighboring residents who once opposed commercial development near their homes held their tongues.
"I think they are resigned to the fact it is going to develop," said Sumter County Commissioner Jim Roberts. "They're going to have a lot of traffic, and they are going to lose half their property."
Jessie Pignone, 85, who has lived on a rural homestead off Northeast 36th Avenue for more than 30 years, said many are now resigned to the fact that development is coming and the neighborhood will slowly transition to more commercial.
"It hurts, but you can't stop progress," Pignone said. "I don't think it's going to happen in a year or so, but it's going to happen."
Three of Pignone's daughters also call the family's 15-acre parcel home. Pignone, who said she moved to Oxford to escape the rapid development of the Orlando area, is now watching Oxford change from a country setting to an urban one. She wonders if her family may one day move to escape congestion and development, but she plans to stay.
"This is my home," she said. "I want to live the rest of my life here."
Browning believes the I-75 interchange at CR 466 will be the fuse that sparks the hike in property values. Construction on that project could start by the end of this year.
"I've had a couple of other parcels I've tried to get my hands on, but people are sitting on them until the I-75 interchange goes in, because they know the value will double or triple. It's just going to skyrocket."
Longtime Sumter resident Danny Smith, a realtor with Oxford Land Co., sees the good and the bad to the development pressure.
"We'd all like to see Oxford with the country roads and the wide open spaces," Smith said. "We hate to see those things go away, because we feel like they are ours. They are what we like about Oxford. But they are going away. The benefit is that some of the people who paid taxes and farmed the land are beginning to reap the benefits of holding on to that land. I see property values appreciating at a very rapid rate."
Near the proposed interchange site, property values are already on the rise. A 19-acre parcel a half mile east of the planned interchange is advertised for $789,000 on the Oxford Land Co. Web site.
Sumter County Planning Director Robbie Rogers said the county now needs to focus on a plan for the way the stretch of CR 466 between the planned interchange and The Villages will develop. She said it is natural that commercial development will soon consume much of that stretch, but homes are also likely to remain in areas.
"If the interchange out at 75 gets built, that is going to be a road with a whole lot of traffic," Rogers said. "Whenever you get a road with a whole lot of traffic, people get interested in commercial or high-density residential development. Instead of doing it helter skelter, we're going to take a good hard look at how it should develop."
Chris Curry can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Road fees dominate Sumter meeting
Lower maintenance fee proposal meets with strong distaste.
Published June 16. 2004 7:30AM
BY FRANK STANFIELD
LOCAL NEWS EDITOR
BUSHNELL - Sumter County commissioners, who are still trying to find the right way to take care of right-of-way in The Villages, ran into more bumpy roads Tuesday evening.
They also heard plans for expansion of The Villages Regional Hospital through a proposed hospital taxing district.
But it was the road maintenance agreement with the retirement center's community development district that caused the heartburn, as Chairman Benny Strickland put it.
Commissioners recently had balked at their current contract to pay $5,000 per mile, especially when the county's acting public works director, Tommy Hurst, said it cost the county $461 everywhere else to mow the grass alongside county roads.
The commission had asked Strickland and staffers to meet with Villages officials to try to come up some sort of compromise. In the meantime, they stopped making any more roadside maintenance payments to the north Sumter County development.
But on Tuesday, commissioners seemed even more aggravated when they learned that the actual cost to take care of three main thoroughfares in a new contract would be much higher than $461 - $932 per mile, multiplied by 35 times per year - or $32,622. The roads in question are Morse Boulevard, Buena Vista Boulevard and El Camino Real.
"We were not happy last week with $5,000, and now, today, we're talking about $32,000?" said Commissioner Jim Roberts.
"I think there's a happy medium somewhere, but I don't know how to get there," said Strickland, who argued for more negotiations. Commissioners even talked about mowing fewer times, but other commissioners didn't take to the idea.
Urban roadways are different from country roads, said Pete Wahl, manager of The Villages' community development districts.
"It's Floritram, not Bahia, it needs to be watered more," he said of the grass after the meeting. It also needs to be treated for weeds and fungus and needs to be fertilized.
There is no statewide average for such maintenance agreements, he said.
A survey of costs elsewhere ranged from $500 per mile to $500,000. That cost came from Weston, a one time community development district in south Florida that became a city.
Strickland, Wahl and the county staff have already done some trimming on the proposed agreement. The county won't take care of areas behind gates or in residential areas. Nor will the county do any of the landscaping or trim shrubs and trees. But Commissioner Joey Chandler still worries that other builders will want similar payments to take care of roads in their developments.
And Roberts said he didn't want to approve entering into a new contract without knowing the cost. Finally, they agreed 3-2, with Robin Cox and Billy "Tiny" Rutter agreeing with Strickland to engage in more talks.
And they all agreed to pay $5,000 to the Villages that was held up by commissioners after recent controversy over the current maintenance agreement.
"Maybe we should just dump a load of lime rock up there and there won't be any grass growing there," Chandler joked.
"Whether you like it or not, they're Sumter County voters, too," Strickland said.
Commissioners also heard from Richard Wooten, CEO of Leesburg Regional Medical Center, on plans to expand The Villages Regional Hospital from 60 to 400 beds.
Plans call for a proposed hospital taxing district to go before voters in the November election, said Wooten, who appeared before the commission with new Villages Hospital CEO Timothy P. Menton. Leesburg Regional owns the Villages hospital.
Taxes collected from property owners in the northeast part of the county will be used to pay off a $100 million, 30-year, tax-exempt bond issue, Wooten said.
Timing is everything. The Villages hospital, which once toyed with the idea of buying its way out from under Leesburg Regional, lost $7 million. By 2003 it was on its way to breaking even. By 2005, it is projected to have a 2 percent operating margin, Wooten said.
But it needs new beds. Too few beds means it has had to steer ambulances to other hospitals, including Marion County. And it has lost other business, too, because it is too small. But even if voters approve the new tax, the first phase of construction won't provide any beds until 2008.
Not everyone was happy with the presentation.
Charlotte Poss, who is running for county commission, pointed out that in 1998 Leesburg Regional built what was supposed to be a 40-bed hospital across U.S. 27 from Villages Regional.
It has since been turned into "an expensive office building," she said.
She also said special legislation creating the hospital district contains some worrisome provisions. "There's eminent domain in there, and that scares me," she said.
Wooten acknowledged that Leesburg Regional built a structure in The Villages, when it was still competing with the retirement community hospital. The Leesburg Regional building was later turned into an urgent care facility, and then offices on the upper floors of the three-story building.
But it would not be cost effective to turn it back into hospital rooms. Nor would it be possible to make single rooms in The Villages semi-private, Wooten said.
"It's not a matter of running a curtain through there," he said. Hospital building rules are very stringent about what is allowed.
The hospital did drop long-range plans to build an additional hospital unit on State Road 44, but it did not rule out the possibility one day of building a hospsital in south Sumter.
Frank Stanfield can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 867-4105.
|Road rage simmers as Sumter revisits contract with Villages
Published June 13. 2004 7:30AM
BY CHRISTOPHER CURRY
THE VILLAGES - Like the traffic on either side of the ornately landscaped median on County Road 466, Sumter County and Villages officials are divided and seemingly headed in opposite directions on the question of whether Sumter should pay the retirement mecca's government $5,000-a-mile to maintain the right of way.
Now, the contract conflict has taken on a political flavor.
Some in The Villages camp are making the case that two county commissioners' efforts to renegotiate the agreement at a lower dollar amount illustrates the need for the One Sumter initiative, which seeks a return to countywide elections for Sumter commissioners.
The targets of that argument are commissioners Joey Chandler and Jim Roberts, along with Interim Public Works Director Tommy Hurts, who first said the amount should be $461 a mile for mowing alone.
Villages officials argue that if the county lowers the contract amount, annual maintenance assessments will rise for residents in community development districts 1, 2 and 3 - special government units formed to maintain Villages infrastructure.
"We're getting the shaft, it seems," said Seymour Rosenblatt, chairman of the Community Development District 1 Board of Supervisors. "It seems like the fella who is taking over doesn't like The Villages. You have two for (Commissioners Benny Strickland and Billy "Tiny" Rutter) and two against and one (Commissioner Robin Cox) who is on the fence."
Rosenblatt and Florentino "Chico" Mir, a supervisor for Community Development District No. 2, both argued that the right of way should fuel the One Sumter cause, which will go to a public vote in August or November, depending on a judge's ruling.
Mir said that while The Villages makes up more than half of Sumter's tax base, Villages residents do not rely on services, such as parks and public schools, funded by those taxes. He said the road maintenance agreement is a just return for the tax revenue. Rosenblatt, meanwhile, said Sumter would be in the "stone age" without The Villages.
Both said Roberts and Chandler, whose districts do not include The Villages, would be more leery of making decisions that hit residents there "in the pocket book" if they needed their votes at election time.
Roberts, however, said it was "unfortunate" that the routine act of renegotiating a contract had been "exploited" for a political cause. He pointed to the way Marion County, Lake County and Lady Lake handle roads in The Villages as evidence of his cost concerns.
Lady Lake and Lake County have their public works staffs maintain roads from curb to curb. But right-of-way maintenance and landscaping is left to The Villages - and particularly the residents inside the subdivisions - at no cost to the county or the town.
In Marion County, roads within the subdivisions are not accepted into the public system. The only county road is Buena Vista Boulevard, which county staff maintains from curb to curb, without devoting staff or money toward right-of-way maintenance.
In Marion, annual assessments are about 20 percent higher than those on a similar size lot in Sumter. The range in Sumter, depending on lot size, stretches from $139 to $1,071. But in Sumter, Roberts notes the county is still paying $5,000 a mile for areas within subdivisions where residents are required to maintain the right of way and the community development districts incur no cost for upkeep.
Chandler argued that wrinkle in the debate should have more Villages residents siding with him and Roberts.
"They've turned this thing into bashing Mr. Roberts and myself, but we're really looking out for the residents of Sumter County, including The Villages residents, because they are paying their maintenance fees and doing their own maintenance," he said.
He said it was "disheartening" to see Hurst coming under criticism for "doing his job" and reviewing the cost of a county service contract.
The whole story is likely to see a new chapter at Tuesday's Sumter County Commission meeting. Commissioners are scheduled to vote on whether to pay The Villages the $312,000 due Districts 1, 2 and 3 under the current maintenance contract. The county has held off on paying because its auditor asked that The Villages provide contracts and receipts to show where the money is being spent. The Villages government branch did so a few weeks ago.
Hurst said the staff is also expected to present a new proposed figure for this year's contract, based primarily on the state statute definition of what road maintenance should include. He would not to reveal what the new figure might be Friday, saying staff with the county and The Villages still have to talk it over behind one more closed-door meeting.
Meanwhile, Strickland, the County Commission chairman, is hoping for an amicable solution.
"All it is is a maintenance agreement, and we just have to work out these numbers to something everyone can live with," he said. "It's gotten way blown out of proportion for one reason or another. When you live under the microscope of public office, these things happen."
Christopher Curry can be reached at (352) 867-4115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Sumter County, Villages dispute road maintenance
Published June 04. 2004 7:30AM
BY CHRISTOPHER CURRY
BUSHNELL - Staff from Sumter County and The Villages government wing sat down to discuss a disputed road maintenance agreement Thursday, separated by a few feet of a board room table and around $4,500 for each mile of roadway in the retirement community.
At the heart of the debate is an agreement the Sumter County Commission unanimously approved in 1999 and has renewed annually to pay The Villages government $5,000 a mile to mow and maintain right of way along public roads in the retirement community. Sumter's interim public works director, Tommy Hurst, said according to his calculations, the figure for mowing should be closer to $461 per mile.
On advice from its auditing firm, Sumter has not paid The Villages under the current agreement for more than one year. The outstanding amount due Villages Community Development Districts 1,2,3 totals $315,000. The county's auditor said the county should hold off paying until it received invoices showing gas tax revenue was spent on transportation-related projects.
At times, Thursday's meeting turned into a verbal sparring match between Hurst and Villages representatives Pete Wahl and Gary Moyer over whether the county was being overcharged.
"You're paying at the same rate per mile as any other road in the county," Wahl said.
"No we're not, Pete," Hurst said. "You know it and I know it."
Hurst said at the rate the county was paying The Villages, Sumter would spend more than $2.7 million for right of way maintenance across the 550 miles of public roads. He said he was also concerned that the county was paying The Villages districts for some areas they did not even take on the cost to maintain. Under deed restrictions, Villages residents are responsible for maintaining the right of way areas in front of their homes.
"We're doing it," Wahl said of maintaining the right of way. "We're just doing it in a different way."
Villages residents also pay an annual maintenance assessment - which varies based on lot size- for upkeep of right of way, retention ponds and other common areas. But Villages officials argued those assessments covered costs not included in the $5,000 per mile, noting the three CDDs combined spent more than $1 million annually in landscape maintenance.
"This is not a double dip on that cost at all," said Melinda Short, finance director for The Villages government branch.
Sumter County Commission Chairman Benny Strickland said there was no point sitting around "beating each other up."
"We can argue this until the cows come home," Strickland said. "I personally think the ($5,000) number is high. I personally think Tommy's number is low ... I think we can come up with a fair number we can all agree on. But we ain't going to resolve it here."
In the end, Sumter staff decided to crunch numbers and come up with a new estimated dollar amount following the state statute definition of road maintenance, which includes mowing, lighting and sign repair and replacement.
Betty Ruth Leech, a supervisor for CDD No. 1, said her concern was if the county cuts the contract amount, resident assessments would rise.
"We try to keep the assessment low so Villagers can afford to live here," she said. "I guess the developer won't take on that expense, it will be the residents. The residents will have to pay for that right of way and I don't think that's fair, so I hope the county comes up with something close to $5,000."
Wahl did not have figures readily available Thursday on the range of annual assessments. Records which Hurst obtained from The Villages showed that while the assessments vary, in some subdivisions they were in the range of $245 to $380 per home.
Sumter's road agreement with The Villages is unique for the three counties the sprawling retirement community covers. Lake County and the Town of Lady Lake have their own staff to handle right of way and road maintenance along public roads in The Villages. In Marion, the County Commission has only agreed to accept Buena Vista Boulevard as a public road, and that roadway is not yet in the county system. The agreement there will have the county only maintaining the roadway itself from curb to curb.
Christopher Curry covers regional issues and can be contacted at email@example.com or (352) 867-4115.
|Sumter seeks fairer fees for Villages roads
Published June 03. 2004 7:30AM
Courtesy BILL KOCH and THE REPORTER
BUSHNELL - Officials from Sumter County and The Villages are scheduled to meet today to see if they can determine how much the county should pay for roads in the retirement community.
Under a 1999 arrangement, the county had been paying The Villages $5,000 a mile to mow and maintain some 63 miles in the Sumter portion of The Villages.
Tommy Hurst, the county's interim public works director, said at a meeting last week a fairer number should be $461 a mile, which would save the county about $286,000 a year.
Hurst's announcement shocked officials of The Villages, who said they would have to raise homeowners' monthly assessment fees to offset the higher costs.
Hurst said the county pays $461 a mile to mow and maintain county roads outside The Villages. He said he calculated the cost by determining roadside acreages.
"What I tried to figure is what it would take to mow the average roadway," Hurst said.
Marion County, Lake County and the city of Lady Lake do not pay The Villages to mow and maintain roadsides.
Sumter County officials cite The Villages' deed restrictions that ascribe mowing and maintenance responsibilities to the community's homeowners.
The deed restrictions state: "Each owner shall keep his lot neat and clean and the grass cut and edged at all times and shall also maintain the unpaved area between an adjacent roadway and the owner's front and side lot lines."
County Commissioner Jim Roberts called the $315,000 the county has been paying to The Villages annually since 2000 for mowing the community's roadsides "exorbitant."
"Of course, to scare the residents, Pete Wahl (the administrator of The Villages Center Community Development District) is talking about raising the assessments."
Wahl didn't immediately return telephone calls.
"People are always going to point a finger and it's always going to be at the county," Hurst said.
Russ Day, a supervisor for The Villages Community Development District 1, said the county needs to abide by the earlier arrangement.
He said community development districts 1, 2 and 3 will be forced to raise assessment fees by about 10 percent "if we can't get more money from the county."
Former Public Works director Garry Breeden said he devised the funding formulas to include mowing, roadside maintenance and drainage, litter clean-up and sign construction.
He said the numbers he devised in 1999 reflect what the county had been paying for other road maintenance.
"When we got into it several years ago, there was no precedent in dealing with the roads," Breeden said.
He said opposition to the $5,000 rate is motivated by an anti-Villages sentiment.
Many county officials "despise The Villages. They're not being objective," Breeden said. "I just took an objective approach."
County planner Robbie Rogers, county attorney Terry Neal, Hurst and other county officials want to examine why the county has been paying The Villages $315,000 for the work.
Hurst, who said he didn't want to dispute his former boss's assertions, said workers have done little of the road work, such as erecting of signs, that is included in the earlier agreement.
Commissioner Joey Chandler said Breeden has exaggerated his numbers and that the county couldn't afford to pay $5,000 a mile to maintain the 549 miles of county roads. At that rate, the county would need $2.7 million, almost half the entire Public Works budget, for roadside maintenance.
"We don't have enough money to pay $5,000 a mile for every road," Chandler said. "If the developer wants to have that kind of service, the rest of the county shouldn't have to pay for it. Why should the county have to pay for a service the citizens are doing?"
Hurst also disputes the assertion that the county should have to pay the $5,000 for the roads in The Villages since they are now county property.
He said it is unclear whether the roads have officially been transferred from the developer to the county.
Bill Koch covers The Villages for The Reporter. He can be reached at 1-800-255-4105 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Fees mulled in wake of road building
Sumter may alter collection of impact fees from Villages.
Courtesy Ocala Starbanner
Published May 30. 2004 7:30AM
BY CHRISTOPHER CURRY
THE VILLAGES - The Villages developer fronted the cost to widen the stretch of County Road 466 through the retirement community, and has so far produced a well-manicured thoroughfare lined with oak trees, golf courses and a rash of new commercial development.
The Villages accelerated the construction timetable, but full repayment from Sumter County will come more slowly.
Improvements on CR 466 from U.S. 301 east to the Lake County line are projected to cost around $13.6 million when finished, probably this fall. So far, the developer has billed the county for the first $8.7 million and Sumter has paid back $5.7 million through road impact fees collected on new development in The Villages. But, for now, the well has dried up. There are currently no remaining impact fee funds in the geographic road district including The Villages.
The drought will not last long. Each month, The Villages pays its residential impact fees up front, according to information from the county finance department. With more than 400 homes sprouting up each month, the developer will pay the county about $560,000 in residential impact fees in June alone. But with more than one-third of that money going into a fund for road improvements with a countywide benefit, it could be around two years before even the country's fastest growing planned development generates enough impact fees to cover costs on CR 466.
Meanwhile, The Villages also plans to start work on a 1.8-mile, $13 million widening of U.S. 301 around the CR 466 intersection - the first phase of a planned $60 million improvement from County Road 42 to Wildwood - and the $5.4 million Interstate 75 exit at CR 466. Reimbursement for both projects will come through impact fees. For U.S. 301, Sumter has agreed to pay back The Villages from the countywide fund before any other road projects can receive funding from that pool of money. That countywide fund has about $3.7 million now, the vast majority of it collected on development in the golf and retirement community.
Future road projects associated with The Villages include widening county roads 466A, 468 and 466 west of U.S. 301 to the interstate.
Sumter now faces the prospect of spending the next several years paying back the developer for road projects, and some county commissioners say that means it's time for an overhaul of the impact fee system devised before The Villages' 2002 expansion for 21,000 additional homes south of CR 466.
"We are paying for the original projects with fees collected south of 466 and that isn't the way it was supposed to be," Commissioner Jim Roberts said. "The idea was that we were supposed to accumulate the money before we build the roads. The developer has to build the roads before they fail to meet concurrency, so we build the roads before the money is there."
County Commissioner Joey Chandler said something has to give.
"We either have to delete road projects or start raising impact fees," he said. "I am of the opinion that development should pay for itself."
Based on a consultant's study adopted in the fall of 2001, Sumter has two separate transportation impact fees for single-family homes: $624.12 for the south county district, including the Webster and Bushnell areas, and $1,427.22 for the area from Sumterville north, including The Villages. An impact fee is a one-time charge on new development to cover the cost of new infrastructure, such as roads, needed to accommodate growth. The rationale between the separate rates in Sumter was that the onslaught of growth in north Sumter would require more road improvements to meet increased traffic.
Sumter's road impact fees are significantly lower than those in neighboring Lake and Marion counties. Marion charges $1,880 on new homes, a figure that willwhile rise to $2,212 October 1. Lake, meanwhile, has three separate categories: $1,642 for a home under 1,500 square feet; $2,189 for a home between 1,501 and 2,500 square feet and $2,583 for a home more than 2,500 square feet.
"Yes, we're going to have to increase them," Commissioner Billy "Tiny" Rutter said of Sumter's fees. "We've got to do something to keep up with this growth."
In south Sumter, Roberts said the problem could be low growth and low impact fees. Right now, the south county district has only collected $42,000 in impact fees over two years. Meanwhile, the county is tackling a $1.7 million widening of County Road 48.
"There is not enough growth to fund a road," Roberts said.
Sumter will fill in the funding gap with grant money and gas tax money. But going to the gas tax well too often could raise other funding concerns. So far this fiscal year, Sumter has collected $3.3 million in gas tax but expended $4.6 million, making up the difference with money left over from last year.
The biggest potential loser in Sumter's impact fee dilemma could be The Villages developer. The developer fronts the cost of road projects needed to meet its growth and gets paid back through impact fees. If, for some reason, home sales slowed considerably in The Villages, there would be a shortage of impact fees the county could draw on to pay back the developer.
"Well, they understand it," Rutter said. "It's a concern, but probably by the time they reach build-out, they'll get reimbursed. I guess that's a gamble they take."
Christopher Curry covers regional issues and can be contacted at email@example.com or (352) 867-4115.