Some Lake Jovita residents have long complained about paying St. Leo’s property tax rate, and the town commission is looking at ways to address the issue.
Although many of the community’s homes are in unincorporated Pasco County, a portion of Lake Jovita is within St. Leo’s city limits. Residents with homes in St. Leo are responsible for paying the town’s property tax rate, which has been a point of contention for years.
Ronnie Deese, president of Lake Jovita’s homeowners association, said property taxes have been an issue for at least a decade.
“The town cannot provide services to Lake Jovita because it is a gated, private community, yet Lake Jovita residents have to pay taxes,” he said.
In 2006, about 80 Lake Jovita residents presented the town commission with a petition asking to secede from St. Leo, and some homeowners complained they didn’t know they would have to pay St. Leo taxes when they bought their homes. The town commission voted against the petition.
In April, James Wells and Robert Inslee were elected to the commission. Wells and Inslee are Lake Jovita residents. Mayor John Gardner also lives in the community, which means that a majority of the five-person board lives in Lake Jovita.
Deese said residents met with the commission in May and pointed out areas where they think taxes are unfair.
Commissioner James Hallett said the homeowners association asked the commission to lower town expenditures for the next fiscal year.
According to Hallett, the association said they don’t benefit much from the money spent by St. Leo.
“The lower the expenditures are and the lower the taxes that they pay, the better it is from their perspective,” he said.
He said eliminating the property tax was suggested during the last budget workshop. He said that reducing property tax to zero may have negative consequences, but a lower rate might be an option.
Deese said he’s hopeful that changes will be made, but not because a majority of the commission live in the community. He thinks new commissioners will provide a fresh perspective.
“I think a new board tends to re-evaluate everything, and that’s what’s going to happen,” he said.
Deese said he plans to give the board time to resolve the issue. The budget will be passed in September.
“I want to stay out of the picture and allow this board time to get its feet on the ground,” he said. “They may come up with ideas that I hadn’t thought about to solve the problem.”