New study proposes sweeping changes to Gateway District’s assessments

Posted on April 30, 2020, 5:23 pm
10 mins

Oh hi there.

How are you? How’s the family?

Everyone doing good?

As the State of Florida starts to get back to business under Governor Ron DeSantis’ reopening plan, it seems like a good time to stick my head out of the hole and see if there’s still a world out there. Turns out, there is. So I figure the Gateway Sun should join the rest of the state and start to get back to work.

We begin with what could be the most contested issue that the Gateway District has seen since the Lake Bank Restoration Project was being hashed out. And that is … a proposed change to the assessment methodology.

What’s that, you ask?

Quick background: When Gateway was formed in 1986 an assessment (your Gateway taxes) methodology was adopted … and then never looked at again. It was a simple formula where everyone pays the same amount and the amount can be increased or decreased as a whole by the Board of Supervisors on an annual basis.

I don’t know the whole story about how the methodology review was launched, but the first I heard on the issue was that the Gateway Golf & Country Club were of the opinion that they were paying way too much in assessments to the Gateway District and had been for years. So it’s come up a few times at district meetings and finally the board agreed that having a system from 1986 when Gateway was mostly an empty field may not make as much sense in 2019 or 2020.

So the district hired a Naples consulting firm named Real Estate Econometrics to do an A-to-Z review of the Gateway District’s assessments to all homes and businesses. Their report, titled 2020 OPERATIONS AND MAINTENANCE ASSESSMENT METHODOLOGY REPORT – GATEWAY SERVICES COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT DISTRICT, was delivered April 6 and the consultant’s recommendation to the Board of Supervisors is to radically alter how Gateway’s assessments are calculated.

It was in the middle of the COVID-19 issue, so I had no idea about the report until a Supervisor emailed me on April 12 alerting me to a few of the changes in the report. And there are indeed some staggering changes proposed, with very real ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ for commercial land owners should the consultant’s recommendations be followed.

Keep in mind that what I’m going to share with you are the official recommendations of the consultant, but they have not been approved by the Board of Supervisors. The Sun has learned that the district plans to hold some form of public meeting (it may be online rather than in person – they’re working on the details) on May 21, 2020 to present the proposed new assessment methodology to the public, and they’ll be inviting comment. The May 21 date has not been officially voted on by the board or announced.

Let’s start with residential properties.

The consultant went through the effort of calculating a new potential assessment for every single property in Gateway, to the penny. That means one house in Silverlakes could have a recommended assessment of $542.23, while the house next door could be $592.11.

However, the consultant recognized this may not be practical and recommended separating residential assessments in to two categories: single family and multi-family.

For single family homes in Gateway, the consultant’s study recommended increasing assessments by $67.14 per year from the current $554.00 to $621.14.

Meanwhile, multi-family dwelling units (such as Royal Greens) would see their assessments decreased by $117.18 per year, from $554.00 to $436.18.

The next three paragraphs are from the report and provide an overview of the consultant’s formula.. feel free to skip if your brain isn’t operating at full capacity having stayed mostly inside for the past month..

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The Consultant first allocated the Gateway General Fund Budget into three categories; Roadways, Water Management and Administrative. The next step was to determine the various measurements to use for the three categories. Trip generation rates from the Institute of Traffic Engineers was used for the roadway costs, pervious and impervious surface acreages were used for the water management costs and each property irrespective of their size or type of use received one assessment unit which equally split the administrative costs among all the assessed properties.

Once the measurements were applied to each residential and commercial parcel in Gateway, an amount (number of daily trips, pervious and impervious surfaces plus one assessment unit) was determined for each parcel. All of the measurement amounts were tallied by category then each property’s amount was divided by the total to obtain a percentage of that category benefit for that property.

The category budget amount was multiplied by each property’s percentage of that amount to determine the apportionment benefit assessment for that category. Each property’s apportionment benefit assessment for each of the three categories was then tallied to calculate the total annual operations and maintenance assessment for that property.

———–

The take-away is that the proposed new methodology has a plan to it. Supervisor Doug Banks has often said that current assessment methodology from 1986 was as if someone “threw a dart” and that’s how assessments were decided. What Banks is saying is that back when Gateway was formed and they were trying to figure out assessments, they just guessed. And that guess has stayed with the community to this day.

Where the study gets interesting is the commercial properties within the district.

For example, one outcome of the proposed new formula is that Gateway Golf Club would see their assessments drop by approximately $38,000 per year while the Pelican Preserve Golf Club would have theirs increase by $94,000.

The owners of the building that houses the Boulevard Tavern and Michelina’s Salon will see their assessments increase from $10,000 per year to over $24,000. The 7-Eleven’s Gateway assessment would nearly triple from about $4,500 per year to $12,800.

On the other side of the coin, the building occupied by Alta would see its assessments cut in half from $32,500 to $16,300.

The two main buildings occupied by Gartner in Gateway would see one of them going down by $5,700 while the other goes up $5,600 under the new formula.

Next Level Church would see their assessment more than double, going from about $4,000 to $10,500 under the proposed new assessment methodology.

The clear conclusion from these proposed changes is that something needs to happen, because the system cooked up in 1986 obviously isn’t fair — or else we wouldn’t have one building’s assessments being cut in half while another building on the same street sees their assessments triple. But whether the consultant’s recommended formula for the new assessment methodology is accepted will ultimately be up to the Supervisors.

At least now the district has got a formal study from a qualified professional firm in this area, whereas before they were operating in the dark on this matter.

I don’t have an opinion to offer as to whether the proposed methodology will pass, but if the board doesn’t make a meaningful change in the assessment methodology then Supervisor Ed Tinkle said he will reverse his decision not to run for a second term on the board – and will indeed run if for no other reason than to get this issue resolved in a way he feels is fair for everyone. (Of course, how fair do you feel this will be if you’re the Pelican Preserve Golf Course and your assessments will go up $94,000 per year?)

The fear is that individual board members will look at who wins and loses under the new formula and vote based on that, rather than vote simply on the merits of the formula itself. For that reason, I believe battle lines could be drawn on this issue.

Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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