ITID OKs Preliminary Assessment Increase For Upcoming Year

The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors approved a possible $134.71 per acre assessment increase for the upcoming fiscal year on Tuesday, July 25. That means the average ITID property owner would pay $922.11 per acre to cover a proposed $19,505,334 district budget.

Under Florida’s Truth-in-Millage (TRIM) law, the supervisors had until this week to approve the 2024 proposed millage rate. The supervisors have until mid-September to approve a final budget. Meaning, theoretically, the budget still could be cut and thus decrease the assessment. But the assessment cannot be increased.

During the 2023 fiscal year, the average property owner paid $787.40 per acre to fund a $16,463,896 budget. The 2024 proposed budget represents a 16 percent ($3,041,438) increase. The largest part of the increase — 41 percent ($1,230,654) — is scheduled to go toward capital improvements, which include work on roads, drainage and parks, plus equipment purchases.

The R3 Road Project and improvements to Santa Rose Groves (Unit 20) roads and drainage are not included, as those projects are covered under specific bond issues.

The assessment increases do not include any county, state or federal tax increases that residents may incur. Several supervisors expressed their frustration that none of those tax dollars come back to ITID.

“People see all the development going on around the district and think the district should be swimming in money,” ITID Vice President Betty Argue said. “But not one dime of [development tax money] comes back to the district.”

“We’re all feeling the impact [of assessment increases],” said Supervisor Elizabeth Accomando, a longtime supporter of incorporation. “But we’re a special district, and that’s the way we have to operate.”

The supervisors did not adopt the $19 million staff-proposed budget. They continue to wrangle over how much of parks maintenance and oversight should be handled by district employees and how much should be contracted out.

Parks & Recreation Director Kenny Lawrence said that more staffing — either in-house or outsourced — is needed to properly maintain and oversee the parks, especially Acreage Community Park.

Included in the budget recommendation was $401,000 for partial maintenance of Acreage Community Park by a private contractor. The deal adds $19.61 to the average per acre assessment. A complete maintenance and oversight agreement would cost $901,000 and add $44.06 per acre.

The entire 2023 parks and recreation budget was $1,850,714.

Argue was frustrated that she was seeing details of the proposal for the first time, adding, “I do not support increasing the budget by $901,000.”

“I don’t want to raise the budget at all,” Supervisor Keith Jordano said.

Argue said she would support the $401,000 in the budget for the purpose of meeting the TRIM deadline, but “we need to bring this back for public input” before passing a final budget.

On Wednesday, Accomando said supervisors and taxpayers need to be realistic about the economics of running the parks in an era when population growth and expectations are putting greater demands on them.

“Things in many of our parks are nearing the end of their lifespan,” she said. “We need to make sure they are clean, safe, well maintained and well managed.”

Accomando said that ITID parks and recreation staff members do an excellent job, but there is not enough of them, and hiring enough — with the cost of salary, insurance and other benefits — may be more expensive and problematic than contracting out at least a substantial part of the work.

“We’ve made a tremendous investment in our parks. It makes no sense not to [properly] maintain them,” she said, while adding that further discussion of the issue is appropriate before a final budget is passed.

The board’s next regular meeting is Wednesday, Aug. 16. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.