• Leesburg business owners fight plan to raise property, utility taxes


    LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - A group of business owners in Leesburg is trying to fight a plan to raise property and utility taxes.

    At least one city council member told WFTV's Berndt Petersen he's going to vote for the tax increase.

    Berndt, so how are these business owners rallying against the plan?

    Nearly every Leesburg business has a sign out front, but several recently put out new ones with petitions inside to send a message to city hall.

    "Most businesses are tapped out. Lots of folks are to the point they can't stand anymore," said Don Magruder, the CEO of a local lumber and supply company.

    Magruder is one of a growing number of business leaders opposing a city property and utility tax hike.

    Magruder said commissioners should cut spending instead.

    "They have to do what businesses do. Sometimes you have to do unpleasant things," he said.

    "We can delay maintenance on buildings. But we're kicking the can down the road when the roof begins to leak. It's time to fix things," said Commissioner David Knowles.

    He said the hikes are necessary to make up for a budget shortfall of $1.7 million. The city has already cut 85 jobs over the last five years.

    "We've cut bone. We've cut fat and it's critical now," said Knowles.

    Knowles said a bump in property taxes will cost the average homeowner an extra $70 to $100 a year.

    But Magruder said some businesses would pay thousands more.

    His business caters to the construction industry and has had no choice but to cut back to survive.

    "Cities are going to have to do the same thing. That's the part they don't get," said Magruder.

    A final city commission vote on the tax hikes is scheduled for Monday.

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