MANATEE -- After hearing extensively from the public -- mostly representatives of the development and building industry -- the Manatee County Commission voted 5-2 Thursday to increase county impact fees, levies that builders and developers pay to finance the cost of growth.
Commissioners voted to raise fees by 80 percent of the amount recommended by a consultant, and then increase that to 90 percent in the second year and to 100 percent in the third year. The new fees go into effect April 18, 2016, which might also include proposed school impact fees that go before the commission on Jan. 7.
While the exact amount the fees will increase will depend on the size of the house or other building and its location in the county, the increase, at the 80 percent level, is projected to bring an additional $2.1 million in revenues, or 14.4 percent more, than what the current fees bring in today. For the first time, the county will have a library impact fee in addition to the parks, law enforcement, public safety and transportation impact fees. The commission also approved an administrative charge.
Voting in favor were commissioners Larry Bustle, John Chappie, Robin DiSabatino, Charles Smith and Carol Whitmore. Voting against were commissioners Vanessa Baugh and Betsy Benac, who weren�t against raising impact fees but did not want to go above the 90 percent level, as recommended by County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.
"I voted against it because I believe we are sending the wrong message that somehow that we really should be at 100 percent and I don't think that's true," Benac said. "I think that we've got to come up with other revenue sources. The people of this community want to know that the developers are paying their fair share, and I think at 80 percent they are paying their fair share as we have heard, and that we could go forward and talk about how we correct some of the problems that we have."
Baugh believes they have a lot of decisions facing them in 2016.
"A 100 percent wasn't even recommended by the county administrator, so there was no way I was going to go for 100 percent when the county administrator even agreed that that wasn't going to be helpful, that was going to hurt us," Baugh said. "For me, I just think that was a bad vote."
DiSabatino said they have to look at other funding mechanisms.
"With this bold move, it puts our feet to the fire to find another funding stream,"; DiSabatino said.
Developers and other members of the building industry argued that the economy has not fully recovered and the recommended increase could be detrimental to the housing industry. In contrast, the couple of Manatee County taxpayers who spoke argued that the impact fees should be increased to the amounts recommended in the TischlerBise study.
"I think that if, collectively, instead of having studies done by professionals, you sit down and think outside the box, there are better solutions,� developer Carlos Beruff said Thursday. "We have not been involved. No one has asked us to participate, even if it takes legislation in order to be able to collect better mechanisms to collect fees. We are about what's good for this community, and we are happy to increase the fairness on how the infrastructure is paid for"
Manatee County resident Ed Goff said he wants to see the right thing done, which he thinks is adopting the impact fees at the full amount recommended in the study.
"It is not a tax," Goff said. "It is an investment. People that are getting these services and infrastructure should be paying for services and infrastructure."
Some developers urged the commission to delay the vote on impact fees to allow for more discussion and to find alternative solutions.
"Let's take a chill pill here for a minute, and that doesn't mean do nothing for a long time, but you don't have to adopt this today," said Rex Jensen, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch CEO. "But by gosh, we've got to get in a room and work some of this stuff out and this is not just an exercise, an abstract exercise of plugging a hole in a spreadsheet. These have real world consequences. You got a lot to balance and it's more than just what's the impact fee. You got to encourage economic development. You got to worry about what your competitive counties are doing. This doesn't do that, and you are going to get your butts in a real sling if you are not careful over those kinds of real-world consequences of these abstract decisions."
Manatee County resident William Wheeler said when he moved to Manatee County many years ago, he paid his way.
"I paid my way for over half a century," he said. "I think the people coming down here now should be expected to."
Hunzeker said since he';s been county administrator, the county has never transferred property taxes into the Capital Improvement Program to pay for infrastructure.
"We don't supplement with property taxes any infrastructure construction," Hunzeker said. "They are not subsidizing new growth on the capital side. We just built less."
Dan Schlandt, the deputy county administrator, said they believe the study is valid. Schlandt added that these fees are what's needed to provide the infrastructure that's needed.
"We recognized that there's discussion about what is the economic impact and how do we sit in terms of other counties," he said. "It's getting to the point where old data is old and we need to move forward."
Since Manatee County currently relies on impact fees as the primary means to pay for infrastructure to serve new development, Schlandt said they must have impact fees at a level that will continue to pay for it.
"We have to provide the infrastructure that is going to be needed to serve new development," Schlandt said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.