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COTI urges resumption of full impact fees

By Staff | Mar 2, 2018

Larry Schopp

With the current reduced impact fee schedule about to expire at the end of March, we urge the Board of County Commissioners to revert to full impact fees so that Lee County taxpayers are not required to continue funding more than their fair share of infrastructure improvements necessitated by development. In 2013 we believed that the reduction in impact fees to 45 percent was not warranted but understood that there were arguments for doing so while the county was recovering from the recession.

However, the county is no longer in recession and development, including home construction, is booming. In November the Lee County School Board will ask voters to approve a half-cent increase in the sales tax to fund a shortfall in the school building budget. That’s on top of a heavy contribution taxpayers make to school funding through ad valorem taxes. A return to full impact fees might not make that increase in sales tax unnecessary, but it would help reduce the shortfall.

$65M to $80M lost

There have been published estimates that since the reduction in impact fees to 45 percent in 2013 between $65 million and $80 million has been lost and will presumably have to be made up for by Lee County taxpayers as the bill comes due for infrastructure projects like roads, schools and sewers necessitated by new construction. That just doesn’t make sense to us.

We have all heard the argument that full impact fees stymie growth, yet in Collier County, where impact fees have not been reduced, construction has remained strong. Even if one believes that Collier County has historically had stronger housing demand than Lee County that does not appear to be the case any longer. New home construction in Lee County is booming.

The time to reinstitute full impact fees is now, when the current reduced rates sunset.

Vote set for March

At their meeting on Feb. 20, commissioners voted 3-1 to abandon a proposal to put that decision off for six months but did not vote to let the current discount expire at the end of March. Instead, they will vote on March 6 to set a new base rate and a new payment rate. Building industry groups and their supporters are pressing for continuation of fees at 45 percent of base rate. At a time when taxpayers are being asked to approve an increase in the sales tax to fund school construction that does not strike us as good policy.

To summarize, impact fees are a necessary and fair way to fund growth in a way that does not overburden taxpayers. It is not, in our view, unfair to ask those who stand to benefit directly from growth – developers and their customers – to pay their fair share. And the time to do that is now.

COTI invites the community’s input on this and other issues affecting Sanibel at coti@coti.org. To read past commentaries on island issues, visit www.coti.org or Committee of the Islands on Facebook

Larry Schopp is the chairman of the Committee of the Islands’ Land Use Planning Committee.