Lee County impact fee reductions held over, Charlotte aims to follow suit

April 3, 2015
By BBadmin7502

BY JACK SHORT – Lee County recently adopted an ordinance to amend certain impact fee collection and schedules and Charlotte County is scheduling a public hearing in order to get feedback on a similar action.

In March, 2013, Lee County commissioners reduced the rate of impact fees, which are used in Florida to fund infrastructure requirements imposed by development, from 100 percent to 20 percent. They included a sunset clause that provided the changes would be undone March 2015 if no further action was taken by the board. But the board voted last month to increase those from 20 percent to 45 percent, effective for three years, at which time they will revisit the issue.

Both ordinances reduced the collection of road, community park and regional impact fees in unincorporated Lee County (which includes Boca Grande and most of Gasparilla Island) and of school impact fees countywide.

The most recent ordinance was passed by Lee County commissioners, as was the first, in order to spur residential and commercial construction activity throughout Lee County.

Charlotte County’s proposed impact fee ordinance is similarly constructed, though for Charlotte it is part of a more austere and prolonged effort. According to their proposed ordinance, this would be an extension of a complete suspension of certain impact fees, which was first passed in 2012. It included fees for libraries, parks, law enforcement, Fire/EMS and public buildings (though, unlike Lee County, it does not include roads). Those fees were suspended entirely for a year and their suspension was renewed each year since.

According to the language of the Charlotte County ordinance, “ … the board finds that the local economy in Charlotte County is still suffering from the effects of the economic downturn and wishes to stimulate the economic recovery … ”

The new sunset date set by the proposed Charlotte County ordinance would be July, 2015.

In Lee County, several groups raised objections to the ordinance before it passed. In a letter to the commissioners, Lee County School Board superintendent Joseph Burke asked commissioners to reconsider.

“We respectfully request that the impact fee remain in place until (alternative funding options) have been identified, considered and adopted,” he wrote.

Burke also said in the same letter, “The loss of impact fees will ultimately impair our ability to provide the maintenance for our buildings and technology at our schools.”

The Lee County School Board did not return requests for comment.

Charlotte County’s proposed ordinance will be put to public hearing, most likely on April 14, according to a County representative. Information about that meeting will be included in the revised agenda for the next commissioners’ meeting. That agenda should be available April 7.

Charlotte County completed an economic impact estimate for the suspension extension which concluded that, while the extension would assist developers and could increase demand for new construction, it “(might) also affect Charlotte County’s ability to compete for new businesses and residents as new development often locates in areas offering attractive public amenities … ”

The report also stated that impact fee reductions may transfer costs of development capacity needs from the developer to the public. The trade-off, according to the report, may be an increase in jobs from any new construction, and an increase in specialty and retail services for residents.