Tavares, FL - June 25, 2011 - Yup - here is another stupid Lake County government Fiscal Fiasco. If you are a County resident, would you be mad if you found the County was using YOUR tax funds (mostly sales taxes, not property taxes) to repair and maintain ROADS within city limits, and city resident taxes are not being used for the repairs, even though they LIVE or WORK on the street?
Are you in a city, paying city property taxes, and the nearby road and sidewalks are not repaired because the City tells you "that is up to the County". The CITY should be doing the repairs using your property taxes or sales tax revenues they get (or other sources).
It seems that a number of cities keep growing by annexing neighborhoods and businesses. That means the CITY gets the property tax at CITY tax rates (usually higher than the County), and the properties go off the tax rolls of the County Government, reducing their revenues.
That is normal.
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But, what came out at recent meetings of the Lake County Capital Facilities Advisory Committee (CPAC - formerly the Impact Fee Committee) is that the cities get the benefits of tax revenues from the newly annexed properties and residents, BUT they cleverly did NOT annex the County roads next to or between the properties. Thus, the County and County taxpyaers have been PAYING for maintenance on about 108 miles of roads that are INSIDE the cities because of this trick.
That means that taxpayers living outside cities are paying taxes to the County and also funding repairs for roads within city annexed areas while the nearby CITY residents are NOT paying for the maintenance costs. Not all cities are using this trick,
The issue gets even more confusing when we found that hardly any property taxes are spent on County road repairs. Instead, the funds come from sales taxes and other sources. Some funds also came from impact fees but the County Commissioners WAIVED those road impact fees last year.
We don't know yet which cities and total costs are involved, but after the issue came out, word went to County Commissioners like Jimmy Conner and Leslie Campione and now the County manager is having meetings with the affected cities to "transfer" the affected roads to the cities, who would then be responsible to maintain them.
But, that is not a simple action.
It also came out at a recent zoning meeting before the Lake County Commmissioners that one residential area (Park Place) had an entrance road and sidewalks that have been in limbo for EIGHT years after the city annexed the residential properties. It seems that the city would not "accept" the road or sidewalks and demanded the County upgrade the sidewalks and road to "city standards" while the County has not had the funds to do so. So, the city avoided any repair or maintenance costs for EIGHT years. although they collected all the property taxes. (Note - the picture is NOT from Lake County). So, finally, the work is being planned. But, why allow ANY city to annex ANY such property without requiring them to take the roads and sidewalks "as is". When you buy a used car, you could negotiate to get new tires, or you could specify the owner buys the car "as is" (which they always do).
It is time that the County Commissioners get better legal advisors and require that cities that annex properties also annex the nearby roads and sidewalks in an "as is" condition. That is fair, since the cities will be getting the property taxes.
Next, other sources tell us that "some" cities get a portion of County sales taxes for roads (this needs to be verified), but they are spending the sales tax funds on dog parks and other projects, partly because they stuck the County for the road maintenance costs, or they are making political decisions to spend the funds on non-road projects when roads may need maintenance. I can think of some roads in Tavares that REALLY need to be repaired. It would be interesting to go back in newspapers and meeting minutes and read what the public was told the sales taxes would be used for. And, have that ready before the sales tax renewal vote comes up in 2014.
1. The County Commissioners need to put a HALT on any more repairs of the 108 miles of roads that really should be repaired by the cities.
2. The County should tell any cities that refuse transfer of the roads and sidewalks to stuff it, and take them "as is" after calculating how much in property taxes the cities have received from the surrounding properties that were NOT spent on road repairs.
3. The current Lake County Board needs to sit down with the County attorney and County staff in a workshop and ask how this could occur and why the attorneys or staff didn't bring it up to the Commissioners. Or, did they, and were there political concerns? They need to disclose which cities used this trick and the total cost of road and sidewalk maintenance absorbed by County taxpayers since the surrounding properties were annexed. They need to obtain legal opinions on getting repaid for the repairs from the cities. Did the County attorneys or staff just not understand what was being done when annexing took place (or can the cities annex properties and no one from the County monitors the process to ensure proper transition of related roads and sidewalks). Or, were city staff just a lot smarter than County staff? If this is one of those areas where staff doesn't disclose such an issue due to internal political direction, they need a policy to publicly mandate full, public dislosure of potential fiscal fiascos like this.
4. The County clearly needs to seek repayment for roads and sidewalk maintenance for the affected roads, OR they should be repaid for the city taxes collected from the property owners that should have been spent on road maintenance. Why should the County taxpayer bear the costs of staff or Commissioner "errors" like this?
So, we will be watching this, and following up on which cities benefitted from this fiscal fiasco and where they are spending their sales tax proceeds. Of course, some local, assertive news reporter COULD research this for a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative article! Just think, maybe this is being done in other Counties also?
Note: If staff or any reader has factual corrections, please let me know at FiscalRangers@comcast.net and I will post them (or provide them in a comment).