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Lee County to consider fee reduction

By Staff | Jun 11, 2011

The Lee County Commission is holding its sole public hearing on a proposal to lower road impact fees Tuesday evening in Fort Myers.
The proposed ordinance would reduce road impact fees from about 14 percent to about 46 percent depending on the category, consolidate medical office into the general office category and create a category for high-cube warehouse.
It also extends unexpired and future road impact fee credits from 10 to 20 years to align with a proposed 20-year timeframe in which to expend funds.
Lee County Commissioner John Manning said at least 20 counties in Florida have suspended impact fees or reduced fees to help spur economic growth.
Earlier this year, he proposed the same, but got no support from his peers.
“I’m not sure it magically it will spur any immediate economic development,” he said.
But, Manning continued, construction costs have decreased and when this occurs, it is time to go back and look at how impact fees are calculated. Fees increased when costs did, but costs have dropped over the last four years.
“I’m very pleased,” he said of the proposed ordinance. “I hope my colleagues will support the results of the study.”
Under the proposed changes, road impact fees for single-family residences decrease from $8,976 to $6,701. Retail commercial fees drop from about 27 percent to 32 percent per 1,000 square feet depending on the category.
Impact fees for offices are lowered from $7,305 to $5,355 per 1,000 square feet, while industrial and warehouses pay from $4,626 to $1,125.
In the proposed ordinance, a general warehouse experiences the biggest fee decrease — 46 percent — with hospitals coming in at second — 35 percent. Nursing homes, churches and day care centers would get the smallest cuts.
“I think that we need to definitely lower them,” Commissioner Tammy Hall said, adding that the commission needs to be careful, though, that there is a reason for it. “I don’t support just making up a number and moving forward.”
Commissioners also need to be aware of those already in the system.
“It’s about finding what is there and what is balanced,” Hall said.
The proposed changes stem from a recent road impact fee study.
According to official documents, county staffers noted that adopting fees lower than those recommended by the study would have ramifications. Such a move could create equity issues with the developments of regional impact.
It may result in refund requests from projects that paid the higher fees.
Staffers also noted that annual road impact fee collections would be cut to about $1.8 million if the recommended fees were adopted. Deeper reductions could impact the capital improvement plan and road planning by reducing the money available for road construction and bike-pedestrian improvements.
For example, an additional 50 percent reduction in fees would result in a loss of over $1.5 million. Projects would have to be deleted, or delayed for years.
Hall also added that Lee County’s road impact fees are not unreasonable.
“If you look at other counties our size, we’re not the highest, we’re not the lowest, we’re in the middle,” she said.
But, some argue, more is needed. The Cape Coral Construction Industry Association and Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach have come out in support of the proposed reductions, at the very least.
“We are in favor of doing whatever we can do to reduce impact fees right now,” CCCIA Executive Director Heather Mazurkiewicz said. “Anything that can be done that can try to put us at a competitive edge, so that we can continue to climb out of this economic downturn, we’re in favor of.”
She said construction plays a large part.
“Any reduction in the impact fees is going to help spur growth, and that’s what we need right now,” Mazurkiewicz said.
She called the proposed fee reductions “a nice place to start,” but said the CCCIA would like to see the fees eliminated for a specified period of time.
“It doesn’t really keep us competitive with the areas that surround us,” Mazurkiewicz said. “Areas surrounding us and throughout the state have done much more to reduce or eliminate impact fees to remain competitive.”
Charlotte County reduced fees in 2007 and 2010 to its 1998 levels, while Citrus County has suspended all road impact fees until June of this year, she said. Effective last year, Collier cut most of its impact fees, with reductions ranging from 11 percent to 50 percent.
“In order for the business community to remain competitive in this environment, we need to see more reductions,” Mazurkiewicz said.
In a prepared statement, the local Realtor Association said lowering impact fees sends the message that “Lee County is open for business.”
“Other competing counties have decided to waive impact fees altogether,” Gary Verwilt, the association president, wrote. “Lowering impact fees is just one step toward creating a competitive environment within which businesses both large and small will feel welcome to open shop.”
“With these new businesses come jobs, strength of community, diversification of our economy, the continued adsorption of our housing inventory and stabilization of our work force and neighborhoods,” he wrote.
In December, commissioners asked for the study to update the road impact fee schedule. The study found that an average fee decrease of 27 percent is recommended based on reduced demands and lower road construction costs.
The study, which was completed in April, cost the county $50,000.
The public hearing will be held at 5 p.m. at 2120 Main St.