Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

If you live in a CDD community, pay attention

Mary Arthur, who lives in the Sterling Hill subdivision off Elgin Boulevard in Spring Hill, is aware she pays something extra to the community as part of her annual tax bill.

But she couldn't say how much of that bill goes to the Sterling Hill Community Development District. In fact, she didn't even know there was such a thing.

"I'm not too in tune with it," said Arthur, 50.

Some of her neighbors knew a bit more. They knew the CDD has an elected board of supervisors. One neighbor, Harry Reinhard, a former housing inspector, even had a pretty good grasp of how CDDs work.

Fees assessed on each lot allow the district to issue bonds that pay for roads, sidewalks, water lines and community centers — and to keep them all maintained.

One view is that this is a way of billing homeowners for expenses that would otherwise be included in the price of their homes; the other is that it's a way for developers to eventually dump infrastructure costs on residents.

Regardless, the lesson here is one that can be applied to every level of local government, especially during election season: Pay attention.

People such as Arthur are not that unusual when it comes to development districts, said Richard Lehmann, a Miami Lakes businessman whose Debt Securities Newsletter tracks the state's nearly 580 CDDs.

As that number suggests, these districts are more common than many realize.

In Hernando, there are at least four CDDs in existing developments: Southern Hills, Sherman Hills, Silverthorn and, of course, Sterling Hill. That is dwarfed by the 45 in Pasco County, according to the state Department of Community Affairs website.

Even well-informed people, such as Reinhard, may not know many details of their districts. He didn't know, for example, that U.S. Bank had notified bondholders in September that Sterling Hill's district had defaulted on payments of some of its bonds; it has issued a total of $47 million worth for the project.

He didn't know that a company headed by one of Sterling Hill's developers, Don Buck, had drawn a $50,000 fee for "property management" for several months in 2008 and 2009.

He didn't know that an audit of the development district's finances for the 2009 fiscal year found it deficient because it dipped into its reserve fund to make monthly payments to bondholders.

Buck formed Devco Development in 2002 as a partnership with Bob Sierra, who is best known in Hernando County for receiving approval for the planned Hickory Hill subdivision in Spring Lake.

Buck was the managing partner and served as chairman of the CDD board since it was formed six years ago. Devco had nothing to do with the default to bondholders, he said; that was caused by builders who had bought large number of lots and fell behind on paying the assessments.

The monthly payments to a separate company he formed, Hernando Developers LLC, were legitimate, he said, because the company really was managing construction of roads, community centers and other infrastructure in the development.

But Buck acknowledged he was taking the payments shortly before he unloaded two phases of the project in 2009. The company realized, he said, the value of the land was less than that of the bonds, and turned the property over to bondholders instead of making payments.

"That's his way of milking this for all he can," Lehmann said of the monthly payments.

Sorting out who is right will be the job of the new board, which for the first time will not be dominated by Buck and others affiliated with Devco. Three seats are open, two of which will be decided by Sterling Hill residents in the Nov. 2 general election. Candidates had to register with the supervisor of elections, just like they would if they were running for any other public office.

Frank Zuilkowski, one of the candidates, said if he's elected, the first order of business will be an audit of the district from when it was under Buck's control.

Of course, there's already quite a bit of information available. CDDs have to conform to the state's public record laws. Sterling Hill's district meetings, agendas and previous audits are available on its website, sterling

If you're a resident, all you have to do is pay attention.

On the ballot

Running for board

Five candidates have filed to run for two seats on the Sterling Hill Community Development District board that will be decided in the Nov. 2 general election. Running for Seat 1 are Sandra Manuele and Louis E. Peters. Running for Seat 2 are Kenneth Hedges, Christina Miller and Francis T. Zuilkowski. The candidates will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot only in the Sterling Hill community, which lies on either side of Elgin Boulevard on Spring Hill's east side.

If you live in a CDD community, pay attention 10/16/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 16, 2010 11:15am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Walmart opens first Pinellas County in-house training academy


    Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.

    New Walmart Academy graduates are congratulated Thursday morning by associates during a graduation ceremony at the Walmart store, 10237 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg. The Walmart location is one of the company's training academies where managers complete a one week retail course. David Shultz and Richard Sheehan, both from St. Petersburg, get high fives from the crowd.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. Four questions with Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith before he helps lead the St. Pete Pride parade

    Human Interest

    A decade ago, Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith was afraid to tell his friends and family he was gay.

    Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith will serve as a grand marshal at the St. Pete Pride parade on Saturday. [City of Largo]
  3. Lawsuit: Florida contractor fakes death to dodge angry homeowners

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE — For weeks, Glenn Holland, 67, crawled out of bed before the sun rose to look for a dead man.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  4. What you need to know for Friday, June 23


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Graffiti butts are everywhere in downtown St. Pete. What's going on? [CHRISTOPHER SPATA | Times]
  5. Owners to level Port Richey flea market but may rebuild

    Public Safety

    PORT RICHEY — The owners of the recently shuttered USA Flea Market have agreed to demolish all structures on the property, leaving open the possibility of rebuilding the weekend shopping attraction, according to Pasco County officials.

    Pasco County officials shut down the USA Flea Market after it received hundreds of citations for health and code violations.