Lee County will keep its discount on impact fees after commissioners voted to retain the current collection rate of 45 percent but increase the amount incrementally over the next 5 years during their meeting on Tuesday.
Every three years, a study is conducted to determine what the base rate for impact fees will be. The board agreed to extend that period to five years on Tuesday.
Impact fees are charged to new construction to offset the costs of connecting developments to existing infrastructure, and help offset the costs of new roads, schools, and fire stations. In order to help the construction industry, recover from the Great Recession, many counties, including Lee, greatly reduced the percentage of the base rate that they have been collecting. Lee County is currently collecting 45 percent of its base rate, but that number was set to jump to 100 percent by March 16 if no action was taken.
The old base rate for a single-family home was $12,985 of which the county was collecting 45 percent, or $6,131. The new base according, to Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass would be an increase of 36 percent.
Dozens of speakers lined up to address the commissioners, both in support and opposition to raising impact fees. A split seemed to form, with those who supported returning impact fees to 100 percent being more established or retired residence, while those who wanted to keep fees the same being developers or younger residents looking to purchase a home in the coming years.
Justin Govanis, who was joined by his wife and four children, told the commissioners that increasing impact fees would price families like his out of what is already a very expensive housing market.
“I work, live, and play in the downtown Fort Myers area and any sort of jump in the impact fees will be an immediate threat to our future to thrive as hopeful future homeowners,” said Govanis. “It’s already very expensive for a family of six.”
Peter Cangialosi of Estero, argued that collecting the full impact fee was essential if the county was going to keep up with the infrastructure needs that rapid growth brings.
“Lee County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, but roads, parks, utilities, and schools are not keeping up,” said Cangialosi. “To pay for all the infrastructure and amenities that new growth demands, we need as many robust funding sources as possible.”
Many speakers also pointed out that impact fees disproportionately fall on families in need of affordable housing, creating a significant barrier to entering their first home. Affordable housing has been a recurring issue for both cities and counties in Southwest Florida, as local governments struggle with how to provide housing for essential workers like teachers and firefighters.
The item on the commission’s agenda was a six-month extension on the current rates so that members could further evaluate the issue. Before Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Frank Mann had suggested a proposal to gradually step the collection of impact fees to 100 percent over a three-year period. Many of the other commissioners, including Brian Hamman, were not ready to return completely to the full rate.
“One of the things that bothered me that was said today was that we promised to raise impact fees,” said Hamman. “I promise you, without a doubt, that I didn’t promise to raise impact fees, I never promised to raise impact fees.”
Commissioner Larry Kiker suggested that rates should hold at the current 45 percent but be increased by 2.5 percent each year. Hamman later asked that the proposal freeze rates after five years of the gradual increase unless the commission voted again on the issue.
Commissioners eventually approved the amended proposal with a 5-0 vote.
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