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LaBelle’s 35% property tax hike has people asking: “Where’s the money going?”

Fox 4's committed LaBelle Community Correspondent Austin Schargorodski dives into LaBelle's 35% property tax increase. Read on to find out why the money might be going "down the drain," literally!
Posted at 7:48 PM, Apr 17, 2024

LABELLE, Fla. — LaBelle, I hear you: what's up with the property tax increase in LaBelle?

I'm LaBelle's own Community Correspondent Austin Schargorodski. In December, I reported on a property tax hike of 35% in LaBelle, and since then a lot of people have been asking the sitting why so much, and where is all this money going.

Down the drain, some might argue skeptically. Turns out, when I followed up on my reporting to get you more answers.. "down the drain" is "literally" where your money is going... to pay for aging city infrastructure, like the sewer system, is the real answer.

My first stop was a neighborhood close to downtown LaBelle - that’s where I met Bruce Manuel, a decorated and retired Purple Heart veteran who’s living on pension.

Retired veteran looks at laptop screen in LaBelle.
Bruce Manuel, a retired veteran with a Purple Heart, wanted to know more about the 35% property tax hike in LaBelle, as he worries about its impact on his relatively fixed income.

He expressed concern over the financial burden of the tax increase, saying, “A lot of people are on fixed income, like I am. So, every chip out of that - it gets to you.”

That’s why Manuel said he wants to know where his tax money is going. So, I took that question to LaBelle City Commissioner, Hugo Vargas, and he said it’s headed to the city’s aging infrastructure.

LaBelle property tax hike city leader vargas
LaBelle City Commissioner Hugo Vargas explains the 35% property tax hike and what it's paying for, including infrastructure and essential services.

“The sewer plant itself has reached its age limit. Right now, we’re worried about the basics - being able to provide the services that are needed in our city,” Vargas explained.

Vargas says this is crucial because of how fast the city is growing. As prices of fuel and supplies have gone up, Vargas said the city needed this new tax increase to afford projects like the sewer plant upgrades.

“A lot of it is replacing old infrastructure, and impact fees cannot be used for that,” stated Vargas.

Impact fees are aimed at new construction, and Vargas said the revenue can only go back toward new construction - not existing infrastructure like the sewer plant.

LaBelle water treatment sewer plant
Aging infrastructure is driving property taxes up 35%, according to city leaders in LaBelle.

“One of the frustrating things for our citizens right now is that they’re not going to see a lot of new things coming up that they can visually point at and say ‘that’s where my tax money is going’,” said Vargas.

In addition to upgrading old infrastructure, city leaders say the tax revenue will go toward increased wages, and adding more firefighters and police officers.

Going forward, Manuel said he believes people are just looking for transparency from the city about these upgrades.

“Show people why it’s important, and a lot of people will understand that and go along with it,” said Manuel.