LAKEWOOD RANCH -- When new residents attend orientation for living in this master-planned community, one question inevitably comes up more than any other.
"So when do my CDD fees go away?"
"It's probably the No. 1 question," said Eva Rey, executive director of Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.
The answer is likely to disappoint those hoping to see a lower tax bill: They don't.
It isn't just residents who live in a community development district who have misconceptions about their tax bills. Realtors, lawyers and title companies are frequently misinformed, too, said Steve Zielinski, chief financial officer for Lakewood Ranch.
The confusion likely stems from the two portions that make up the CDD assessments on residents' monthly bills, Zielinski said.
Part of the fee goes toward repaying bonds taken out by the district to finance infrastructure, and those will eventually go away when the bond matures. But the remaining bulk of the fee covers maintenance and operations in that particular community,
and those costs aren't going anywhere.
"It's very similar to paying taxes in a city or a county," Zielinski said. "They may fluctuate ... but they will stay in effect in perpetuity."
Zielinski fields numerous calls from residents wondering when CDD fees will disappear from their tax bills. And it's been such a confusing issue among local Realtors that he was invited to attend last month's Coldwell Banker meeting in Sarasota to "set the record straight" on CDD assessments.
"I'm not so sure where the lines of communication break down, but it's all parties, all sectors," Zielinski said. He suspects it's a misunderstanding that occurs when builders or developers tell Realtors that the debt service will eventually go away, and they take that to mean the entire CDD fee will drop off residents' tax bills.
Kathy Robarts, CEO of the Sarasota Realtor Association, said it hasn't been an issue among Realtors as far as she knows.
"We have a pretty active professional development committee that puts together seminars, probably 200 or more a year," Robarts said. "I think if that was a subject Realtors didn't understand, they would be offering and providing information."
Alan Roth, treasurer of the Inter-District Authority, has his own theory about the misunderstanding.
"I think it's also the result of, people buy a house, they're very excited, they've got a million things on their minds. ... This CDD thing they never heard of, they moved down here from New York or they never had CDDs," Roth said. "Three quarters of the people couldn't tell you the difference between a CDD or a HOA."
Adding to the confusion is the fact that the length of debt service remaining varies by CDD and neighborhood. Lakewood Ranch's District 1, for instance, which includes Summerfield, will have its debt service paid off by May 2014. Those who live in District 2 will only see the debt service portion on their tax bills for about three more years, Zielinski said, but Districts 4, 5 and 6 won't have their bonds paid off until the 2030s.
But IDA Chairman Thomas C. Green can't fathom residents paying their taxes without understanding what's on their tax bill.
"Most people make sure they understand what their annual costs ought to be," Green said.
Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.