SUNNY HILLS - What was first planned as a meeting Monday to discuss the possible disbanding of the Sunny Hills Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU) evolved into residents of the community telling county commissioners they are willing to retain the MSBU but want better services.
The MSBU is an ordinance-created tax district in which funds are raised to provide services to the residents in that designated region. However, the MSBU is not an entity unto itself, and the responsibility of the district ultimately lies on the shoulders of county commissioners.
Currently, the county collects about $32 a year from Sunny Hills property owners who own lots on paved roads, and that money is used to provide services such as mowing, streets lights, and some general appearance maintenance to those living in Sunny Hills.
But residents say they are not getting what they pay for - especially when it comes to roads and law enforcement, which are provided to the community out of the county's general fund.
Jason Paridon, who grew up in Sunny Hills, says he recently purchased a home in the community and doesn't mind the MSBU as long as the county steps up to the plate.
"MSBU? Why wouldn't we have it as long as everything is being put forth to what we need in here?" said Paridon. "Do I care (that I pay $31.90) a year? That's fine, but give us what we deserve; give us what we need in here. Don't just wait until it falls apart. That's what's going to happen. The roads are horrible in here. The money should be going to take care of that…"
Resident Sal Zurica, who has expressed a desire to see the MSBU disbanded in past county commission meetings, agreed.
"Keep the MSBU? Fine. But what is the county going to do?" said Zurica. "… the roads are in terrible, terrible shape. I know a lot of people live on dirt roads, and yes they're worse … but the county has to help, too. And we aren't getting the law enforcement protection that we need."
Disbandment has not been ruled out, however.
The community's largest developer, The Deltona Corporation, expressed opposition to disbanding the MSBU, in which the company holds nearly 4,000 properties.
"It is our understanding that if and when the MSBU is dissolved, all street lights will be removed and rights-of-way will only be mowed twice a year, under the county's general mowing guidelines," wrote Sharon Hummerhielm last month on behalf of the company.
"Speaking as the largest taxpayer in Washington County, this is totally unacceptable and will result in an immediate and continuing decline of land values within Sunny Hills."
Deltona argued that without the maintenance or street lights required by the MSBU, crime would increase, vegetation would create dangerous situations, and neglect of roads and drainage would virtually preclude any growth within the subdivision.
"Sunny Hills would take on the appearance of a ghost town so that each lot owner can save less than $50 a year," stated Hummerhielm.
But while some residents and landowners seemed to have had a change of heart regarding the dissolution of the MSBU, others - like Anthony Dogostino, a Sunny Hills landowner who lives in New Jersey - believe it should be disbanded in light of the district paying off its debt in 2016.
"I am a co-owner of a lot in the Sunny Hills development," Dogostino told commissioners in a letter sent last month. "It is my understanding that the debt incurred on the Municipal Services Benefit Unit has been satisfied effective Dec. 1, 2016. For that reason, it is requested that we no longer be required to absorb the MSBU fee."
Angelo Mangano, a landowner who resides in Franklin Square, New York, agrees.
"(The MSBU) did nothing for the landowners or residents of Sunny Hills," Mangano wrote in a letter to the county. "I feel this tax was used as a slush fund for your agency to be used as they saw fit but with no benefit to Sunny Hills."
Sunny Hills generates an annual cash revenue of $1,258,000, but that is without considering fuel tax at about $30,000. The community has an economic impact of about $48,000,000, but at least half of that economic impact goes to other counties due to where people work and shop and a lack of significant retail and services within the county.
Commissioners advised residents that input received at the meeting will be considered when the Washington County Board of Commissioners address the MSBU issue in upcoming workshops.