Manatee developers applaud fee hikes proposed for sewer system expansion

MANATEE -- When officials announced plans for a hefty fee hike for extension to new service areas of the Manatee County sanitary sewer collection system, those in the development business greeted it with an unusually upbeat attitude.

"It's spreading the cost around for everybody," said Caleb Grimes, an attorney who frequently represents developers. "It's fair and reasonable."

The proposed hike would raise county facility investment fees, which are similar to impact fees, from $2,315 to $3,027 per unit in local developments, county officials said Tuesday.

Ratepayers pay for the existing utility system while developers should pay for expansion of the system, officials said.

"'Growth should pay for growth' is the policy of the county," Dan Schlandt, deputy county administrator, told county commissioners Tuesday at a workshop meeting.

Under the current system, the county takes a loss when it installs service for a development because the fees do not cover costs, officials said.

"Why did we allow our

selves to get in this position of investing money without getting any return?" asked County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.

The proposed new fee structure is a "business-like approach" to address the problem, said Schlandt.

"They're being proactive in identifying future growth, rather than waiting for a crisis to happen," said Dale Weidemiller, who in 2009 retired as president of land development for Neal Communities of Parrish, and now consults for the big developer.

"We just want them to tell us the rules, and how much they cost," he added. "It's a very refreshing and healthy approach."

The changes first must win the approval of county commissioners before taking effect, officials said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.