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Cape eligible for state aid with big cut to impact fees; Aubuchon talks about

By Staff | May 20, 2008

An across-the-board impact fee reduction of at least 25 percent could provide an economic stimulus to Cape Coral, state Rep. Gary Aubuchon told the City Council on Monday night.

Weeks after closing out the year’s legislative session in Tallahassee, Aubuchon offered the city the opportunity to make its residents eligible for home ownership down payment assistance from the state by slashing its impact fees by 25 percent or by completely eliminating residential impact fees over the next 18 months.

Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, argued that the assistance would help absorb the residential inventory on the market, especially those in foreclosure or up for a short sale. Those state monies, in conjunction with the impact fee cuts, would make new construction more competitive with the homes already on the market.

“The temporary nature of this reduction would give people a reason to build a new house. Today they lack that reason,” he said. “Any little advantage for Cape Coral provides a reason for someone to build today.”

Councilmember Dolores Bertolini expressed skepticism that the impact fee reduction would spur the economy, pointing out that many of those who would need the assistance do not have steady employment and are in no position to buy.

“I don’t really see people banging on the doors to buy these foreclosed homes,” she said.

With a projected revenue decline of at least $22 million in the city’s general fund next year, and fiscal hemorrhaging in its building division, Bertolini was also apprehensive about cutting a revenue source.

But Aubuchon argued that the budgetary impact would be negligible, pointing to the meager amount of residential homebuilding going on.

“We’re not collecting impact fees right now, so a reduction of almost nothing is nothing,” he said. “If this downturn has taught us anything, it is that this city is overly dependent on the construction industry.”

As council mulls the idea, the clock could be ticking on the program’s availability for Cape residents.

Twenty million dollars was set aside in this coming year’s state budget for the assistance program and those funds will be distributed statewide on a first-come, first-served basis for all eligible localities. Charlotte County has already slashed its impact fees by sufficient levels to make its residents eligible for the program.

Aubuchon also informed the council of a provision in the recently passed transportation bill that could free up funds to reimburse the city for a major road project.

“We worked very well together this past session to put together an opportunity to accomplish Cape Coral’s number one legislative priority, and that has been to widen State Road 78 from Chiquita (Boulevard) to Burnt Store Road,” he said.

The new bill bumped up the cap in a local government reimbursement program from $100 million to $250 million, which would free up enough money to pay for the Cape’s $80 million road expansion. If it finds a way to fund the project, either publicly or with a private partnership, the city would be reimbursed the full amount in 2014.

Aubuchon said a presentation on such a partnership will be forthcoming in the near future.

If the city does nothing, it will not become eligible for the funds until 2014 and then would have to fight with other projects for money. Should the council sign off on a plan to get the expansion moving, the reimbursement would be locked-in for six years from now.