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Editorial: Don’t raise impact fees

February 27, 2015
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

On Tuesday, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners is set to re-discuss fees assessed to new construction projects in the unincorporated areas of the county.

To help the local economy recover, the elected board two years ago temporarily reduced by 80 percent "impact fees" imposed on all new construction to pay for infrastructure necessitated by related growth.

Impact fees vary greatly according to construction type and use.

At the full rate, the fee for a new single-family house, for example, was just under $13,000, the home's computed "impact" share to pay for new roads, parks, schools and infrastructure needed for fire and rescue services.

The temporary 80 percent reduction reduced the single family fee to just under $3,000.

For a major construction project, the full fee can be in the six-figure range and the reduction to 20 percent was substantial.

On March 13, the reduction will expire and fees will go back to the full tax - excuse us, fee - rate unless the board renews the reduction or agrees to some percentage less than 100 percent of the full charge.

County staff has recommended restoring the fees to 85 percent of the full level, which would be about $11,116, after some tweaking of the actual levies, for a single-family home. The Commission has agreed to open discussion Tuesday with restoration to 45 percent, or about $5,840 per new home.

We urge the board of commissioners to hold the line at the current reduced rate of 20 percent for at least two more years.

We make this recommendation for several reasons.

First, the reason the impact fee reduction was approved two years ago was to spur the economy. The reduction was designed to put people back to work in the type of jobs the county dishes out some pretty hefty incentive money -our tax dollars - to attract. That is high-paying, skilled labor jobs that, in turn, allow wage earners to put money back into our economy.

The simple reality is the construction industry is a primary economic driver in Lee County.

And the ugly truth is that while things have improved, neither the industry nor the economy it fosters has "recovered."

We're still working hard to get there and we need every tool available to stay on course.

Maintaining the reduction at the 20 percent level is one way to do that.

Second, growth does not get a "free ride" with reduced impact fees. New construction adds to property tax revenues.

While construction has not returned to pre-boom "normalcy," the county did see nearly $800 million in just value, or more than $711 million in taxable valuation, added as a result of new construction to the tax rolls for 2014. With an average collective taxable rate of 16 mills for all taxing authorities in unincorporated Lee, that's not only a tidy boost to tax coffers, it's a tally that grows with, well, growth.

Finally - and this what those who repeat the growth-must-pay-for-growth mantra ignore- undeveloped parcels have been taxed for years upon years while receiving no services at all for the money.

None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

To provide some perspective, there are 170,724 undeveloped parcels, with a collective taxable valuation of more than $2.2 billion, in the vacant residential classification alone. Taxes paid by these property owners, like all others, help pay for such things as the day-to-day operation of schools, park improvements, public safety departments, road work and every other government service provided.

But vacant lot owners don't have kids in school or on the playgrounds, have little need for police or fire personnel, nor do they clog up the streets.

In thanks, we tax them again hard with impact fees, a sort of penalty tax when their tax subsidies for no direct services end.

Our point is, no one is getting a free ride.

And that, unfortunately, includes those of us who have seen neither the tax rate nor our tax bill come down one whit as a result of fees that by law cannot be used for operations, only infrastructure necessitated as a direct result of the type of construction paying the fee.

Extend the impact fee reduction at the 20 percent level for another two years.

Then re-evaluate down the road to make sure the rates charged two years ago still make sense.

Right now they do not.

-Breeze editorial



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