Thursday, March 1, 2018

BikeWalkLee's Letter to County Commissioners in Support of 100% Impact Fees

 On Tuesday, March 6th, the County Commissioners will be considering whether impact fees should return to the 100% rate or continue its impact fee reduction policies, which has resulted in the loss of $83 million in revenues over the past 5 years.  BikeWalkLee strongly supports returning to the 100% impact fees and has shared our comments with Commissioners.  Make your voices heard before or at this important meeting on Tuesday. Here's the Link to this Letter.

March 1, 2018

Lee County Board of Commissioners
2120 SW Main Street
Fort Myers, FL 33901

Dear Commissioners: 
BikeWalkLee, a coalition working to complete Lee County's streets, works for a more balanced multi-modal transportation system that values transportation choice, connectivity, economic opportunity, livable communities, community character, safety, and quality growth.  Over the past six years, we have steadfastly opposed the suspension or reduction in impact fees.  We believe that providing public infrastructure should be a shared responsibility; that investments in public infrastructure necessitated by growth should be paid for by those creating that need;  and that infrastructure investments should keep pace with permitted development so that the quality of life for all residents does not erode as a result.

At your March 6 Board meeting, we urge you:

·        To take no action to extend reduced impact fees, so that the full base rate (100%) is automatically reinstated effective March 16, 2018, as called for in your March 2015 ordinance;

·        To adopt the recommendations in the 2018 Duncan Associates impact fee studies (roads, schools, parks, fire/EMS), updating the 100% rates reflecting current costs;

·        To oppose any efforts to lengthen the impact fee update cycle beyond the current long-standing practice of updating the fees on a three-year cycle. 

When the Board enacted the reduced collection rate (20% for two years) in 2013, and then extended it in 2015 (with a reduced collection rate of 45% for three years), the ordinances stated that these reductions were to provide temporary relief to the building and construction industry in recognition of the downturn in the U.S. economy. The downturn in the economy is long over, with employment and growth booming in Lee County, and it's past time for the "temporary relief" to come to an end.
This "temporary relief" has come at a high cost to the taxpayers. As a result of this Board's policy decisions (supported by all Board members with the exception of Commissioner Mann) to reduce impact fee collection rates over the past five years, $83 million in revenues has been lost (approximately half for roads as well as parks; and the other half for schools). Public infrastructure costs due to permitted development are determined by state-mandated impact fee studies which establish the base impact fees. According to these studies (e.g. Duncan Update studies), $128 million is necessary to cover the public infrastructure costs associated with these developments, yet the county collected only $45 million of that amount, creating a $83 million unfunded liability for the taxpayers of Lee County. [See Attachment 1.]
Now the Board is considering a proposal to extend this 45% collection rate for another five years, which would result in an additional estimated loss of $122 million ($24 million a year), bringing the 10-year revenue loss to over $200 million (half for schools and other half for roads and parks). [See Attachment 2.]  If this 45% collection rate becomes permanent (as the majority of the Commission clearly intends), by 2040, the County will have lost an additional $400 million in revenue...for a grand total of $600 million (half for schools and half for roads and parks)! It is fiscally irresponsible of the Board to give away a vital revenue source necessary to meet the public infrastructure needs of this growing county, even more so because no replacement revenue sources have been put in place to cover these costs. 

During the 24 years from when road impact fees were instituted (FY 1990 through FY 2013, when slashing of impact fees began), this revenue source constituted about one-third of all revenues funding transportation projects. As a result of the Board's impact fee reduction policy decisions over the past five years, that share has dropped from 36% to 10%. It is time to re-assert the community compact of shared responsibility that served the county well for the previous 24 years, and return impact fees to 100% of the base rate. [See Attachment 3.]

In addition to the detrimental impacts from the past five years' $83 million revenue loss, there has been an even more lasting casualty: In the Board's attempt to justify slashing impact fees, it has created a false narrative that there are sufficient revenues to meet the transportation needs of this growing community. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The countywide long range transportation plan (2040 LRTP) approved in 2015 by the MPO Board (consisting of all 5 Commissioners along with elected officials from each of the 6 municipalities), clearly sounded the alarm about the growing transportation funding shortfall. Less than half of the projects in the approved list can be funded with the estimated revenues coming in through 2040. For the LRTP projects that are solely the responsibility of Lee County, there is a $1.2 billion shortfall over the next 22 years, with 55% of the need left unfunded. This is half of the $2.3 billion shortfall  in the overall Plan. Furthermore, as the MPO's LRTP made clear, the upward pressure on project costs coupled with worsening downward trends on almost all revenue sources, the transportation funding shortfall with be significantly higher when the 2045 LRTP is adopted in 2019. [See Attachment 4.]  

The County Administration has argued that it has "solved" the funding shortfall problem with its Growth Increment Fund (GIF).  This is not true.  First, no new revenues have been raised.  GIF simply shifts approximately $11 million/year in already collected property tax revenues (from all residents) to the transportation CIP every year; thereby shifting who is paying for this infrastructure.  Second and most importantly,  even with these GIF revenues, the funding shortfall has only been reduced to $864 million-- with  41% of the funding shortfall remaining.  

Restoring impact fees to 100% will make a big dent in the shortfall (closing half of the gap), but the County will still be faced with  a remaining 23% funding shortfall ($481 million).  As has been discussed by the MPO, new revenue sources are needed and it is the responsibility of local leaders to come up with solutions; yet nothing has been done. Through its actions to reduce impact fee revenue collections, this Board has made an already dire funding situation much worse. [See Attachment  5.]

The Board's exclusive focus on the Transportation CIP's five-year window is very deceptive. In order to create the impression that no additional funds are needed, it simply pushes the true costs of completing these projects into the outyears beyond the "visible" five-year window, hiding the fact that sufficient revenues are not available to complete these projects. 

Using the County's own numbers--the FY 2017-18 5-Year Transportation CIP (adopted in Sept. 2017)and its revenue estimates (provided in Feb. 6, 2018 workshop), just to complete construction of the projects already underway in the current 5-year CIP (totaling $244 million) an additional $225 million is needed, as shown the County's "6-10 year" column on its detailed CIP spreadsheet. This means that over 80% of the revenues coming in for the next 5-year window (FY 22/23-26/27) are already committed for the completion of the projects now underway.  Only $55 million will be available to spend on all the unfunded Tier II and III projects, which have a $165 million price tag.

The reality is that it will take over 15 years to fund all the projects in the current five-year CIP and on the county's approved Tier I, II, and III priorities list.  No funds will be available for any new projects until  FY 2032/33 -- 14 years from now, by which time Lee County will have another 182,000 residents on top of our current population of 700,000. [See Attachment 6.]

In addition to these "big picture" transportation funding concerns, BikeWalkLee is particularly concerned about the consequences of this funding shortfall on the growing backlog of stand-alone bike/ped retrofit projects, as well as road projects that incorporate a complete streets approach. In 2017, Lee County was ranked the deadliest metro area in the country for pedestrian safety. [The 2016 Dangerous by Design report released by Smart Growth America.] This report demonstrated the urgent need for increased investment in pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure to make Lee County roadways safer for all users. A year ago, BikeWalkLee challenged the County along with the six local municipalities, to step up their investments to make our roadways safer for everyone. Without these additional investments now, we are likely to see our "worst in the country" label stick when the next report comes out next year, hurting Lee County's reputation well beyond this one issue. Safety is essential to one's quality of life, and without it, our economic vitality cannot be sustained. 

While the County has provided some increased funding for bike/ped projects, much more needs to be done. As of January 2018, there are $105 million in bike/ped stand-alone projects that have been approved and prioritized by the County's Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee waiting to be funded. In addition, there are $38 million more in approved projects that are currently on hold until other issues are resolved.  The list of approved projects has grown from $68 million in FY 2015, essentially doubling over the past 3 years. To eliminate this backlog, and to make our existing roadways  safer for pedestrians and cyclists, significant additional revenues are needed in the transportation budget over the next 15 years and beyond. [See Attachment  7.] 
The Board needs to be honest with the citizens of Lee County about the growing transportation funding shortfall rather than pretending it doesn't exist so the Board can squander much needed revenues by only collecting a fraction of impact fees due to the county and school district. The Board's actions on this critical issue over the past five years have misled the public about the true transportation funding situation and undermined the long-standing social compact of "shared sacrifices" that is critical to the public's trust in its elected officials, making it even harder to gain public support for these efforts in the future.
Economic prosperity comes from quality investments in community infrastructure. We urge you to vote to return impact fees to the full 100% rate, as updated by the 2018 Duncan impact fee update studies. 


Darla Letourneau
On behalf of

cc: Roger Desjarlais, County Manager


Attachment  4:  Lee County/BoCC Approved Projects in 2040 LRTP

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