STEAKS ON THE GRILL – THE FUEL CAFÉ, NAPLES, FLORIDA – THE VILLAGES TAX FREE BONDS
By Stephen A Duncan
“Tact is the art of recognizing when to be big and when not to belittle.”
— Bill Copeland, American poet
Saturday afternoon I received a phone call from my personal and very close friend, Jim (Shooter) Tsareff. Jim keeps telling me he has retired but continues running all over the country working as a consultant serving on various corporate boards. We talked briefly last week and he wanted to get together for coffee, lunch or something, but his schedule was just to cluttered for that to happen. “When I get back in town next week let’s get together…”
Well, he was back and invited us for dinner Saturday night. “Are you free tonight? I know it’s short notice. Not to dress, come casual and we will throw some streaks on the grill and have a few drinks and catch up.”
I’m not sure when I first met Jim and Marlene, but I think it was around the year 2000. I just purchased a Honda Goldwing 1500 motorcycle and I was making all the normal haunts bikers seem to gravitate toward.
Jim was at one of those meetings and we ended up sitting at the same table. We talked and learned a little about each other and agreed, sort of, to get together for a motorcycle ride. But everybody says that! “Call me, lets get together for a ride.” You know the old business line, “Have your girl call my girl, we’ll do lunch!” That first meeting started a friendship that has lasted 14 years. We’ve spent many a mile on the road together riding our motorcycles.
Jim has a fine home in Indianapolis and it’s big. Three up and one down. He has a meticulous eye for detail… and if it’s not right, you do it over. The home is completely finished from top to bottom.
Every square inch of the home is per his discriminating specifications and standards. But that’s Jim. He does nothing unless he can completely focus on, and have total control of the project at home and work. He’s built that way. I remember the day the contractor was pouring the concrete for the front steps and porch that leads to the massive front entry doors. There was a seam in the concrete that was lined up with the middle of the front door. Jim called the builder and told him to tear out the concrete and put in the porch per the specifications and drawings, two seams, one seam on each side of the door opening.
As we headed to the kitchen, Marlene wanted to know what we wanted to drink. She had a bottle of red on the kitchen counter and Jim asked me if I would prefer Scotch. We went to the lower level of the home where the full bar is located leaving the women in the kitchen to extract the cork at their own demise.
(Calling the lower level of this home a basement would be a social faux pas. The term basement would be a tactless act, one that would violate all rules of etiquette.) This lower level bar area is absolutely first rate and beautiful. It rivals a first class hotel bar. Jim has several brands of Scotch and I noticed an open bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. I suggested that the Johnnie Walker would be fine. Jim protested asking me what was wrong with the 12 year old Glenlivet? “It’s been sitting down here for seven years and no one will touch it.”
“Jim, the Glenlivet is not open, it’s a fine Scotch. It’s expensive Scotch. People, for the most part, will not open a new bottle, without permission especially if it’s a quality brand of Scotch, and we don’t ask, it’s just not polite. It’s like some one who sits on your motorcycle without asking for permission. You don’t ask permission to sit on another man’s motorcycle and I don’t ask if we can open a premium bottle of Scotch.
“Is that the problem? Well, let me open it!” He placed a blade around the neck of the bottle and broke the seal and pulled the cork. “There you go Duncan, would you like some Glenlivet?” I told him all I needed was a tumbler with ice and just about two ounces to start the evening.
We walked back up stairs to the kitchen area. We were eating just off the kitchen in the lanai. I had to ask, “What is a lanai?”
Jim the ever consummate man with the details said, “The term Lanai is less frequently used in Indiana, often called a roofed porch or verandah. Actually, it’s a Hawaiian word for patio or balcony. A Lanai is the typical term used in tropical climates and generally is furnished like a room in the home. It may have removable panels of glass or screens and would usually have a hard surface floor, similar to a patio. Like so many terms, it will mean different things in different parts of the country. Real estate agents will use the term patio, porch and lanai to describe the same space, depending on who is doing the describing.” I asked, “What about the term veranda or verandah?” Often a verandah will wrap around a house – think Victorian or New Orleans style here – perhaps a space or porch on the front and both sides of a home.
Jim and I went down to burn the steaks on the outside grill. He told Marlene it would only take 14 minutes. (Seven minutes a side – they were pretty good size steaks.) Which is code for Marlene to have things ready when we come up from the grill. I want to eat our steaks while they are hot.
We got to talking about the old times being on the road together traveling the country. We rode with a another motorcycle friend who went with us on many trips and we had to laugh about the year we went to Naples, Florida.
We were in Florida for Bike Week held in Daytona. Jim wanted to do more riding than just up and down main street to see and be seen. After all, when you’ve seen massive amounts of cleavage and derriere all day, what do you want to see tomorrow? Why, more highway! Yeah, that’s the ticket.
Jim is a motorcycle guy and he likes to put on miles, lots of motorcycle miles. Steve Reed, is the same way, he wants to RIDE. And me, easy going, riding in the middle of the pack, said, “Sure, where are we going?”
Jim Tsareff – Duncan – Steve Reed
Well, we ended up in Naples and decided to hit one of the nicer parts of town and have lunch. There was an outside café called Fuel Café. So we sat down and waited to be served. A waiter in a white shirt arrives at our table and asked for our drink order. I got the impression he is not real sure about us, so for some reason I decided to take his picture. I don’t think he was real excited about his picture being taken either. As a server, I will assume you do what you got to do. Also thinking… we might not get service… after all, we were in jeans and motorcycle leathers, and laughing and enjoying life. I’m not sure we were allowed to enjoy life “out loud” in Naples.
As it turned out there was a very attractive lady sitting on a platform behind us and she started giving Steve Reed a hard time with very crisp conversation.
Notice the photograph of her behind me. I asked Reed to take my picture… except what I really wanted was a picture of the woman behind us that was flirting with Reed. Notice the guy sitting with her with his hand on her knee.
Steve responded with a little banter back and forth, and the next thing we know, she leaves her table and the guy stroking her leg and walks over and puts the hammer on Mr. Reed. Steve is married at the time and is very worried that this very flirtatious event is going to make the six o’ clock news back home.
So, this gal comes over to the table and is talking trash and really giving Reed the what for… Jim and I are laughing and thinking this is better to watch than sliced bread. Reed is enjoying the attention, of course, but very worried that he is violating rules imposed by his wife. If she finds out, there will be hell to pay. As you can see in the picture below, she is moving them assets all over Mr. Reed. So as they say, “What goes on in Naples, stays in Naples.”
During dinner we talked about moving to a warm climate after such a bitter cold and snowy winter in Indiana. That subject was first on the agenda for the evening. Marlene and Jim both have been west recently and suggested we look at Arizona… We also talked Florida and The Villages. The pros and cons of The Villages. One of the expenses you may have living in The Villages is a thing called a bond. I explained to Jim and Marlene about the “bond” as best as I understood the way it is structured.
Unlike Indiana, where a developer buys ground for a million dollars, then puts in sanitary sewers, storm water sewers, underground power, cable, telephone, gas lines, streets, sidewalks and curbs. The improvements cost a couple of million dollars, the developer adds in profit of a million dollars, then divides the 4 million price tag, (cost and profit) by 100 lots in the development. The developer can now justify charging $40,000 for each lot.
In The Villages everything is the same except you buy only the dirt or lot, no infrastructure is added to the price of the lot. That infrastructure is owned by The Villages Development Company or as the Villagers like to say, it’s owned by the developer H Gary Morse. Then about eighteen months to two years later… the infrastructure is appraised at it’s theoretical current value. The appraiser some how can justify establishing a value of 10 times, or more, what it costs to develop the ground. With a forty million dollar appraised value for infrastructure that costs the developer four million, the developer then places a lien of forty million on the lots in the form of a tax free bond. Forty million is then spread over the one hundred home owners as a lien, debt, bill, or as they like to call it in The Villages, a bond. Each home owner in that subdivision now has a 40,000 lien against the property they own. The home owner can pay off the bond or finance it for the next 30 years tax free with a monthly obligation of between one hundred to four hundred fifty dollars a month. Neat trick… no?
And the bond is one way the developer, H. Gary Morse, is now, by all accounts a very rich man. The IRS has been pleading for years this is not legal for the CDD (Community Development District) to be able to issue tax free bonds. The CDD has no home owners on it’s board. All the members on the CDD are controlled by H. Gary Morse and there is the rub. So far, Mr. Morse has friends in high political places to ward off any IRS action.
The Orlando Sentinel newspaper detailed how the law has been written by and for developers and has made them rich on the backs of retirees just looking to live in the sun.
There was an interesting article written by Craig Pittman for the Slate that said, “For Morse, the Villages has been akin to a private mint. He not only sold the residents their houses. He also owned the mortgage company that financed them. He’s the landlord of all the commercial buildings. He owns all or part of pretty much everything worth owning in the Villages, including the bank, the hospital, the utilities, the garbage collection company, the TV and radio stations, and the newspaper, where never is heard a discouraging word about life in the Villages. (Also never mentioned: the numerous sinkholes that open up because of all the water pumped out of the ground to keep all those lawns and golf courses looking green.)”
Well, enough of the Villages, forget about the amenities fees of 145 a month, it’s the place to live if you love golf and love living in utopia. Don’t even think about the price of a new home. I told Jim I was there last year. A 1800 square foot home was 200K. This year a 1300 square foot home is 200-220K. Never mind they spec each new home now and you can choose which one you want after they are finished. Never mind asking about a lower price. We set the price, take it or leave it, we have 500 people waiting in line wanting to live here each month.
Jim said that he could never leave Indiana, just too much family. But Marlene said they were thinking about a small place to live for a couple of months out of the year. They just don’t know where that will be as of yet.
We cleared the table and were invited down stairs to the movie theater. I filled my tumbler one more time with ice and two more ounces of the good stuff and settled into a leather theater chair to watch a movie in complete comfort. What an evening. As I used to say. I’m Livin Large on the BLVD.