Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lee Community Sustainability Advisory Committee(CSAC) votes to support staff recommendations on impact fees

 The Board of County Commissioners asked the CSAC to make a recommendation on impact fees.

Last night (3/21) the CSAC discussed Lee County staff recommendation regarding impact fees for Parks and Recreation, Schools, and Fire / EMS.  Mary Gibbs, Community Development Director, made a presentation on the staff's recommendations for impact fee adjustments based on its updated studies for Schools, Parks, and Fire/EMS. The conclusion of the three studies was that some fees should be raised and others lowered to meet the rational nexus ‘tests’ established by the courts and be based on recent ‘localized’ data.    (Click here to view the impact fee studies and draft ordinance. )

The CSAC discussed a variety of issues and unanimously recommended that the BoCC adopt the staff’s recommendations.  There are several important background issues that contributed to the discussion that made this an important and critical vote.

First, it was clear that there was no clear consensus among Lee County’s advisory boards.  On March 5th, the LPA, in a 4/3 vote, recommended that the BoCC suspend school and park impact fees for two years.  The Horizon Council and its Business Issues Task Force recommended a similar approach.   There was a desire to increase the demand for development and economic growth. 

However, CSAC members discussed the results of several research studies that showed that there is no significant relationship between the reduction (or elimination) of impact fees on building permit activity. There was ample evidence that economically competitive counties continue to invest in their infrastructure –whether that be schools, parks, or EMS.  Several members noted that Lee County's existing  impact fees are competitive with other counties and do not appear to detract from business development. 

The Committee also heard public comments from the Lee County School District attorney who argued the school impact fees are critical to meet the needs of the growing school population; and any loss in impact fees would mean taking money away from the maintenance of existing schools to build new ones.  Her most salient point was that schools are being built today - this is putting the construction industry to work.  If impact fees are suspended the industry would lose existing jobs.

BikeWalkLee's representative  spoke in support of the staff recommendations and in opposition to any suspension of impact fees.  She argued that this is about equity-- who pays for the infrastructure and services.  The County's policy framework is that it is shared responsibility--developers (impact fees), taxpayers (property taxes), sales taxes (residents & visitors), and bed taxes (visitors).  The EAR vision and the Comp Plan process the Committee has been involved in for two years focuses on the economic health of the county and positioning it to attract and retain the businesses, residents, and visitors vital to our success.   If impact fees are suspended we've given away our "seed corn" – our only tool to provide incentives for infill and disincentives for suburban sprawl consistent with the EAR vision.   Perhaps most concerning is that if these fees were to be suspended, we risk road impact fees being the next on the chopping block.  Although the suspensions are for a limited time frame, they will be like any "temporary" tax cuts...impossible to reinstate because any elected official who votes to re-impose them will be accused of raising taxes.

The Horizon Council Business Issues Task Force chair reviewed his committee's recommendations and stated that the motive for the suspension of impact fees was an effort to increase the competitiveness of the county to attract businesses as we come of this recession, with a particular concern for small businesses.

Members of the LPA who voted against the suspension in committee, stated that the LPA did not have adequate information to make a decision, since the issue wasn't on the committee's agenda and no information was provided upon which to analyze the impact of a suspension.  They urged the CSAC  to adopt the staff recommendations.

There was general agreement that the Evaluation and Appraisal Report process committed to quality of life, connectivity, and economic improvement.  These are critical changes to the Lee Plan that we must get right in order to ensure economic prosperity.  The community has collectively embraced the idea that the economy, environment and equity are interconnected values that must be balanced. 

Economic prosperity comes from quality investments in community infrastructure.  Our way out of an economic downturn is to continue to develop Lee County in a way that enhances our educational system, our parks, and our emergency services – this way is to support staff recommendations for adjustment.

On Tuesday, April 10th (9:30 a.m.), BoCC will hold a public hearing on these impact fees.

Report by Darla Letourneau

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