It is now $1,901 cheaper to build a new home in Polk County. Answering pleas from the local development community, the Polk County Commission voted Wednesday to reduce impact fees for new home construction by nearly $2,000. In addition to adopting a revised road impact fee — that came with a recommendation of a private consultant and the county’s Impact Fee County — the board also decided to cut the impact fees for parks, libraries, fire, police, jails, and ambulance service in half.
School impact fees remain unaffected. The cuts, that go into effect April 1, will reduce the impact fee on a single-family home from $11,595 to $9,664. The new rates are slated to remain in effect until commissioners review consultant studies for the other impact fees. The review process could take a couple of months.
Stating the reduction in revenue from the cuts would not be significant, Commissioner Bob English made a motion to approve the new rates. Smith suggested the cuts several weeks ago after hearing from commercial developers who said the fees were persuading some businesses to locate elsewhere. Chairman Sam Johnson said he hopes the cuts will encourage development, and, eventually, provide jobs for Polk residents.
Commissioner Jean Reed was the sole voice of dissent in the 4-1 vote.
Reed said she agreed with cutting road fees as recommended by the consultant, but was hesitant with moving forward with the 50 percent cut of the other fees.
“You need to look how competitive we are with surrounding counties,” said Mike Hickman from the Polk County Builders Association. Hickman presented a chart comparing local impact fees for transportation in commercial development with similar fees in neighboring Hillsborough, Orange and Seminole counties. Impact fees in those counties, in many cases, were lower than Polk’s.
Jim Studiale, director of community development for the City of Lakeland, urged commissioners not to decrease impact fees apart from what the impact fee consultant recommended, adding arbitrarily cutting fees is unfair to people who have already paid fees and “starts an erosion of the system.”
Having higher impact fees than Polk County for several years, Lakeland’s fees did not deter new development, Studiale said. Fees could be challenged. Under a new measure unanimously passed by the State House of Representatives on Tuesday, local governments would be held to a higher standard when property owners challenge impact fees, it was reported this week by the News Service of Florida.
Proponents of the bill say the measure is needed to provide a check to cash-strapped local governments that are increasingly looking at impact fees to raise money.
“The bottom line is this bill creates fairness and puts the burden of proof on government, where it belongs,” Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral said.
If approved, the measure would require local governments to prove by a “preponderance of evidence” that an impact fee is justified and will be used for the intended purposes. Courts now have wide discretion in determining a local government’s burden of proof and often have allowed impact fees to stand if governments can offer a reasonable argument.
A companion measure is traveling in the Senate. Lobbyists for local government association have been hesitant to heap criticism on the bill, but some concerns remain.
“We have concerns over the burden of proof being shifted over the cities,” said Tim Stanfield, legislative representative for the Florida League of Cities.
Opponents of impact fees often find themselves in “murky legal territory,” necessitating the new law that many builders, developers, and property rights attorneys say will “bolster the rights of property owners, who they say now have little recourse to challenge impact fee assessments.” “It’s very difficult,” said Ron Adams, an attorney representing property owners. “The deck can often be stacked against us.”
According to the Legislature’s Florida Impact Fee Review Task Force, impact fees across the state had grown by 505 percent from 1993 to 2004 — and are continuing to rise.
The Florida Home Builders Association has reported that Florida has the second highest impact fees in the nation.