Some people in and around the tiny town of St. Leo are renewing the debate of whether the incorporated community should be even tinier. Residents within the high-end community of the Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club are questioning the value of the services they receive compared to the taxes paid to the town. The financial questions are a precursor to asking the town to separate all of Lake Jovita from the municipal government. Currently, 118 lots in the nearly 900-home subdivision are within the town's boundaries.
It is a familiar scenario having been decided at the polls six years ago. Then, a trio of Lake Jovita candidates lost their bids for Town Commission after running on a platform promising to separate the country club neighborhood from the town and then resigning their seats.
Certainly, this is an issue worthy of a vigorous public debate in a town that's wealthier and younger than the rest of the county because of two entities — Saint Leo University and Lake Jovita. The town's 1,340 residents include the students on campus, pushing the median age to less than 21. The portion of tony Lake Jovita within the municipal boundaries accounts for the town's median household income of $111,000 — 150 percent higher than the countywide figure of $44,000.
Deannexation advocates point to the town property tax rate of 1.15 mils, plus the taxes on monthly electricity and communications bills that county residents don't pay. In exchange, they receive trash pickup service and enhanced police protection that's now being questioned because Lake Jovita security guards counted just four deputy visits each week over an eight-week period.
But, the debate must account for the financial perks afforded the town's residents. For starters, Lake Jovita residents who built homes within the town escaped thousands of dollars of impact fees charged by Pasco County for transportation, parks and libraries. Likewise, town residents don't pay the annual $47-per-house stormwater management fee charged to county property owners. Most curiously, this debate is being renewed as the town's tax rate continues a descent of more than 40 percent from six years ago.
Ronnie Deese, president of the Lake Jovita Homeowners' Association, labels the town as an unnecessary layer of government. Perhaps more accurately, it is a level of local government that people knew existed when they bought their property within the gated community.
Taxation without representation is a tough argument to make if individual due diligence is lacking.