Lee County Commission reaches agreement on impact fees
Impact fees will increase in Lee County but in increments, a compromise to satisfy area builders as well as those who say it is time to raise more money for infrastructure in a booming area.
The Lee County Board of County Commissioners on March 6 agreed to a five-year plan that will raise impact fees sharply the first year by about $2,400, then go up by about 2.5 percent in each of the next four years.
The county is currently collecting 45 percent of a base fee of $13,000 based on the “impact” the new construction will have on Lee County infrastructure. Under the structure approved, the base will be adjusted to nearly $18,000 and the percentage collected will bump up to 47.5 percent, to 50 percent and so on, up to 55 percent in 2023 when the issue is revisited after the five-year period.
“It was made clear by much of the public that impact fees adversely affect families and first-time homebuyers more than any other segment, and I want to help make this the place people can achieve the American Dream,” Commissioner Brian Hamman said.
Hamman said the philosophy behind the increases is that they will keep pace with the increased costs of construction as building roads gets more expensive annually.
Although the measure passed there were some who thought the fees, first reduced to 20 percent of base when the real estate market collapsed, needed to go up to the original full fee amount.
“Growth should pay for growth. We are compromising our drinking water and aquifers,” Stephanie Eller, of North Fort Myers, said. “We live in rural area, impact fees have caused communities to explode. You made the commitment to sunset this and building is going on like crazy.”
Kitty Green, chief executive officer for Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties, said raising the impact fees would lessen their ability to provide affordable housing to those who need it.
“We would have to pay $300,000 in increased impact fees; that enough for us to build three homes. Show compassion to struggling families,” Green said.
Business people added that increased impact fees would affect small businesses, as larger stores like Target all made deals years ago with the county to have the fees waived so they would come here.
The week before the meeting, Commissioner Frank Mann submitted a compromise that would haved called for a full restoration of the fees over three years, backing away from a proposal to restore the full impact fees immediately. He said if he was in Collier County or in any municipality, he would be in the majority. He just has a different perspective of things.
Commissioner Larry Kiker, who submitted the compromise plan brought forward, said the deal will still result in a sharp increase, but will not do nearly as much as do other taxes, such as for gas.
He cited statistics to support his case.
“Homes under $300,000 represent 84 percent of homes in Lee County. At $17,000 over a 30-year mortgage, that would be more than $77,000,” Kiker said. “In Lehigh Acres, homes under $250,000 represent 99 percent. There are no cash buyers. That’s why first-time buyers have problems qualifying.”
Construction leaders were satisfied with the outcome, adding that the original plan, if passed, would have potentially ground new construction to a halt.
“We’re happy to see the commissioners kept the impact fees where they’re at. It allows for people to buy first-time homes and we want to keep it that way,” Bill Johnson Jr., executive director of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, said. “At the end of the day it’s about putting people in houses. If those fees were brought back to where they were, it would have made first-time home buying almost impossible.”
“We thought the commissioners would find a middle ground in raising fees to pay for infrastructure,” Richard Durling, president of the Lee Building Industry Association, said. “For every $1,000 of cost approximately 600 families would be unable to qualify for a home loan. If we had gone to 100 percent, it would have put the brakes to the construction industry as a whole.”