The collection of impact fees on new residential and commercial construction across unincorporated Lee County for a two-year period has been greatly reduced to allow the stimulation of economic development in the area.
The Lee County Board of County Commissioners approved to reduce road, school and both community and regional park impact fees by 80 percent during a continuation of a public hearing on Tuesday.
The reduction of those impact fees begins today (March 13) and ends on March 13, 2015.
Last month, on Feb. 12, the commissioners unanimously decided to defer a public hearing on a decision to reduce or suspend impact fees. Discussion was held on the pros and cons of it at a March 4 management and planning meeting.
"In our last M&P meeting, we discussed many alternatives that we heard here today, including a moratorium. At that time, the board gave direction to both legal and staff to reduce the impact fees and come back with an ordinance," said Commissioner Larry Kiker, who made a motion immediately afterwards.
Commissioner Frank Mann was the lone dissenter.
"Growth requires infrastructure improvements," he said. "Somebody has to pay for it."
Mann referenced the $28 million hole in the County budget and that, even though Charlotte County has the lowest impact fees in Southwest Florida, that county's construction went down during the past two years.
At the M&P meeting, Mann asked the commissioners to consider coupling a reduced rate with incremental increases. It was not worked into the motion.
At the same meeting, Kiker stated that Lee County impact fees are too high.
As part of the approval, County staff is required to update the commissioners on economic indicators, such as employment, taxable sales and permit activity on development after the first year of the reduction period.
County staff was asked to weigh the impact on various cities including impact fee interlocal agreements and the legal ramifications on impact fee credits regarding a reduction as opposed to a suspension.
"Since I've been on the board, this is the first time that we had a subject that required this much conversation and investigation," said Kiker.
Forty people spoke during public comment. Input ranged from "a reduction will devalue the price of properties" and "taxpayers will have to pick up the tab" on lost impact fee revenues to "this will spur growth" and "it's simply about jobs."
Roughly 60,000 people are unemployed or underemployed in Lee County.
The recent economic downtown has produced a decline in new residential and commercial building construction activity in the county. The reduction of impact fee collection hopes to "provide temporary relief to the building and construction industry," according to County records.
Mann believes the economy is starting to improve and a measure such as reducing a revenue stream is not needed. He read different publications to fortify that point.
"We are coming back strong, and impact fees play a major role," he said. "They are not the reason that the industry collapsed."
During the Feb. 12 meeting, Kiker directed staff "to deposit all impact fees collected as of Feb. 13 into an escrow account, so that they might be fully reimbursed depending upon the board's final decision as expressed in the ordinance."
Two weeks prior, the County Local Planning Agency found that a temporary suspension of impact fees was inconsistent with the Lee Plan unless there was a replacement of that revenue from other sources. County officials will need to look into other funding mechanisms to replace a reported $5.1 million loss over the two-year period.
Commissioner Tammy Hall wants to make sure projects won't slip with less revenue coming in.
"It's not a great deal of money, but it's enough money that may impact Fort Myers Beach and a lot of other commitments to municipalities and other communities," she said.
Impact fees are a government collection of payment for proposed road, park, school, fire and EMS development projects. However, fire and EMS fees were excluded in the reduction for public safety reasons.