My Take on Impact Fees

imagesA certain Lee County commissioner is right in his NP opinion that there is misinformation about impact fees. He is either ignorant of its sources or willfully misleading. Builders and developers have always told the lie that impact fees hurt the building economy. Every study I have ever seen that wasn’t paid for by a builder/developer group disputes that. The factor that controls new home pricing is profit. Period. Spend as little as possible to build the house and sell it for all the market will bear. Only a complete lack of media institutional memory and understanding allows those lies to carry weight.

The commissioner says impact fees were used to push the city south and the gated communities east. The decisions that allowed the sprawl we have seen were not caused by impact fees. The decisions were made by county commissioners – commissioners who, now more than at any time since the 1980’s, were selected by builder/developer money. Including the one making the false statements to the NP.

Spending of impact fees is not limited to new roads, new schools and new parks. I think it’s just possible the commissioner believes it is, though he might be parroting the line his builder/developer funders feed him. Impact fees are spent on NEW CAPACITY. It is not some esoteric fine point. Adding square footage to schools. Adding lanes to existing roads. Adding infrastructure at existing parks. All of these can be accomplished with impact fees.

This argument is part of a bait-and-switch builders, with the support of county shills, have run on taxpayers for years. For example with impact fee funding coming in the school district used impact fee revenue to buy land and build schools. With impact fee revenue not coming in the school district must find other sources for that funding. Those sources are the same ones that pay teachers, buy school books and do all the other things the district must do.

The commissioner’s use of ‘an 8-lane flyover’ to scare residents is unconscionable. Again, the decision to build or not build a flyover is made by locally-elected officials. If they decide to build a flyover it is not because there is an impact fee revenue stream.

For the commissioner to credit himself and the other commissioners with national/worldwide economic changes that increased local building numbers is hugely arrogant. Commissioners axed the impact fees as a pay-back to those who put them in office, raided Conservation 2020 funding to plug the budget hole they created and now want credit for the economic changes that coincidentally took place on their watch. Do not allow them to sell these lies.

‘The plan proved successful’? Is that success illustrated by the huge lines of traffic we are currently suffering? Is it the radically reduced capital budget that seems destined to make things worse for the next several years? Is it the proposed new sales tax for school construction commissioners have foisted on the school district and on taxpayers?

The commissioner says that a choice between higher taxes and impact fees is a lie. There is a grain of truth there. Commissioners need not choose between higher taxes and impact fees. They can choose to simply allow the services citizens demand – and have paid for – to continue to deteriorate. If this is the choice they are making then they should tell citizens that.

For them to attack growth management and planning advocates for ‘blatantly sharing misinformation’ is laughable, or it would be if he was not in a position to decide. If they are in office to make sure the builders and developers and speculators who put him in office make lots of money then they should be honest and say that. If he is truly a servant of the people, as he so often claims to be, then he will take steps to make sure growth pays for growth. For the growth will come. The only questions is whether those who profit from it will pay the cost it creates or whether the rest of us will. Either the commissioner knows that and is willfully misleading citizens or he is too uninformed to be a commissioner.

Some will point out that when I ran for office  I said I would consider reducing impact fees. That is true. I said I would consider reducing impact fees short-term as long as another revenue source, something like a mobility fee, was explored. It wasn’t.

The 4-1 vote that commissioners took to continue the 80 percent reduction after a year was a dark moment for the county. It was obvious to everyone who wasn’t a builder or in one’s pocket that the reduction was costing the county (taxpayers) desperately-needed funding it would never get back. It was obvious that the larger global changes were increasing local building. It was obvious that the reduction was unnecessary.

Unfortunately it was also obvious who commissioners really work for.

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3 comments

  1. Pam Oakes

    Well said, Charlie!
    Unfortunately, not enough county taxpayers takes time out of their busy schedules to check out what’s going on in commission chambers. Glad you are keeping us up to date.

  2. Dave Urich

    Also, they are trying to say that lower Impact fees will help low income folks buy homes! But the Lee Plan ALREADY provides for waiver/reduction of IMPACT fees for such homes! But apparently there needs to be a “START” button ordinance passed to make that provision a reality. Lowered Impact Fees for ALL are not needed! Currently some 55% of home sales are CASH deals in Lee County! Staff has said that they can work with 85%, not the 45% suggested at the last BoCC meeting on this topic! Let’s compromise with approving 85% for ONE year at the BoCC meeting tomorrow! Allow Growth to pay for itself, NOW!

  3. steve sherman

    Well said Charlie. I believe the big reason that much develop went east is because Felon Tammy Hall, as a Fort Myers Councilwoman, lead the efforts to annex much of the area between Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres. This effort allowed developers to double the density. It, also, allowed her to become the first County Commission candidate to raise over $100,000. Previously county commission campaigns spent around $60,000.

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