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Saturday, Aug 30, 2014
Pasco Tribune

Lake Jovita, St. Leo at odds over taxes


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Tampa Tribune -

ST. LEO - Nathan Walbridge won't play golf at the Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club.

Walbridge, a St. Leo resident, said he feels so strongly about the neighborhood's battle with the town of St. Leo that he chooses not to play there.

"To destroy a municipality over a millage tax is kind of ridiculous," he said.

A number of the Lake Jovita's homes lie within the St. Leo town limits, and homeowners with property in St. Leo have to pay town property taxes. Lake Jovita residents have argued that the town provides few services for the gated community, and it's been a point of contention between the town and the neighborhood for years.

In 2006, about 80 Lake Jovita residents presented the town commission with a petition asking to secede from St. Leo. The town commission voted against it.

James Wells and Robert Inslee - both Lake Jovita residents - were elected to the town commission in April. Mayor John Gardner also lives in the community, which means that a majority of the five-person board lives in Lake Jovita.

The homeowners association asked the commission to reduce town expenditures for the next fiscal year during a May meeting, and lowering property taxes was suggested during the town's last budget workshop. A new budget will be adopted in September.

Walbridge said he worries that the newly elected commissioners might do what's best for Lake Jovita instead of what's best for the town overall.

"They're thinking of themselves as a community, but we're a whole community," he said.

Gregory Smith has owned property in St. Leo since 1997 and has lived in the area for six years. He said he can understand where Lake Jovita is coming from, especially residents who didn't realize they would have to pay town property taxes.

"If you moved into Tampa, you'd know you were in Tampa. But you could move into St. Leo and not realize it," he said. "They certainly have an understandable point of view there."

Smith, who lost to Wells in the 2013 election, said he's hopes the new commission does what's best for the town as a whole.

"I'm glad that there's a lot more representation for the Lake Jovita community over there," he said. "I gather that they feel like they weren't heard."

Some St. Leo residents, such as 20-year-old Kyle Christmas, think the divide between the neighborhood and the town can be apparent.

"Everyone really knows what Lake Jovita wants and what the people (here) before Lake Jovita want," he said.

Christmas, who was raised in St. Leo, said he doesn't object to a recent proposal from the homeowners association to lower property taxes.

"I plan on staying here, so that'd be nice even for me," he said. "I'm gonna have to pay those property taxes."

St. Leo resident and former mayor William Hamilton said he understands that some Lake Jovita residents didn't realize they were building homes in St. Leo, but he said he thinks it's a personal responsibility to do research beforehand.

"You don't buy a Corvette and say, 'Man, insurance is killer!'?" he said.

Hamilton said he thinks it's important to have taxes that are high enough to fund road care and other public services.

"I don't know what they had from the towns and villages they came from, but I'm sure they had taxes and other things," he said.

Walbridge agreed.

"The way I look at it ... we pay our taxes and we don't complain," he said. "It's not that much money. It really isn't."

astewart@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1859

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