Editorials

New impact fees for Manatee County, school district justified as development, homes sales and population grow again

gjefferies@bradenton.com

Both Manatee County government and the school board are on course to either raise or reinstate impact fees, and rightly so as the homebuilding industry and real estate market soar once again, the county's population surges and the need for new infrastructure balloons. Some 45,000 houses, condominiums and apartments are in developers' plans over the next decade. Major growth is coming.

County government maintains a fully justified and simple philosophy: growth should pay for growth. New residential and nonresidential buildings should pay impact fees to help cover the costs of new infrastructure, including roads, parks and public safety among other costs associated with growth. The county did not waiver from that policy during the recession.

The Manatee County school board, however, completely suspended its impact fees in July 2009 since residential construction and sales cratered, and the district was not building schools to serve new neighborhoods.

The Maryland consultant that conducted a state-mandated study of impact fees recommends increases in the charges for the county and new rates for the school district. Proposed county fees only come closer to the levels charged to developers in 2006.

As home sales rise, new neighborhoods are born, district enrollment continues jumping by 1,000 students annually and schools become overcrowded, the need for new schools sometime in the future -- particularly in East Manatee -- becomes apparent. The district can also spend impact fees on additions to existing schools, land purchases and adding to the bus fleet. The board must prepare for future needs. The consultant's study proposes the school board charge $6,086 for new single family homes anywhere in the county.

Manatee County's situation is different since the county is divided into four quadrants, and impact fees collected in each one must be spent within the boundaries in which it is charged. Thus, fees vary because urbanized communities have little need for new roads.

A new 1,700-to-2,200-square-foot home in the northeast district, an area poised for massive growth while lacking in roads, could be charged $10,484, a $4,235 increase from the current fee. Some $3,700 of that increase would be pegged to transportation.

That same-sized house in the southwest zone would see a hike of $1,028 for a total fee of $7,277. Only $504 would apply to transportation.

After the school board authorizes new fees, county commissioners have the ultimate say in the matter with an adoption vote scheduled for Dec. 3.

The fees are completely warranted, despite some opposition by homebuilders and real estate agents.

Impact fees raise the cost of homes. Would buyers balk at that cost? Historically, has that ever been a deterrent to home sales? Or is that a red herring argument?

The cost of growth has to come from somewhere, and that should not be shifted onto the backs of current property owners.

(On affordable housing, the county offers an assistance program on fees.)

The commission and the school board are nearing the end of a long, state-mandated process. With the required impact fee study and proposed charges in hand, county commissioners and school board members are on pace to approve new fee structures over the next six weeks.

Impact fees pay for legitimate needs. This month, commissioners heard staff outline a plan to add $92.4 million in transportation debt for three projects. One would allow more work on the valuable east-west corridor that the 44th Avenue extension would provide between Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton. Impact fees would cover the debt, with bonds being issued when construction begins in fiscal 2017.

Impact fees are neither new nor unreasonable. The county commission and school board are responsible for planning for the future. That should be the focus as discussions proceed.

A public workshop is coming up: The Planning Task Force will meet on Oct. 29 from 3:30-5 p.m. in the Manatee Room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W.

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