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Implement two-year moratorium on impact fees

February 20, 2013
Lehigh Acres Citizen

In March, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners is expected to consider a proposal that would implement a moratorium on most impact fees for up to two years.

The ordinance would waive what are sometimes called growth fees imposed on new residential and commercial construction, as well as remodels that change use. As proposed, the fees for fire and EMS infrastructure necessitated by new development would be retained during the moratorium period. All others, including those imposed for schools, parks, and roads, would not be assessed throughout the unincorporated areas of Lee County.

The moratorium would last a mandatory one year with a review prior to the second to include an option for discontinuation. The proposal also includes a sunset provision at the end of the second year, meaning any bid for a longer moratorium would start over with public hearings, input and a new ordinance.

The measure is being proposed by District 1 Commissioner John Manning, of Cape Coral.

He believes the fee waiver will help boost the still struggling construction industry that, while improving, still has a far way to go.

We agree and urge approval.

If there ever was a good time to tax, ahem, "fee" new homes to the tune of nearly $13,000, and commercial construction and new-use modifications in six-figure amounts for their "impact" on Lee County infrastructure, it certainly isn't now.

Simply put, putting people to work is the very definition of economic development, and doing everything we can to foster our primary economic driver - that's construction - is the surest way to get there.

Now critics will tell us that the "loss" of $8 million to $8.5 million in fees for the new roads, new schools and new parks necessitated by new homes, new buildings and the conversation of empty plazas and office buildings into facilities business actually want to use is substantial.

True enough. Assuming building continues on its slight incline.

But what fee supporters don't say is that increased property tax revenue compensates for some of that "loss." So does increased property values that come from improved neighborhoods, infill construction, and upgrades to empty buildings to get them filled.

Nor do those who repeat the growth-must-pay-for-growth mantra propagated by those who want to impose and increase such fees tell us that undeveloped parcels are taxed for years while receiving no services at all.

None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

No one is getting a free ride.

And that, unfortunately, includes those of us who have seen neither the tax rate nor our tax bill come down one whit as a result of fees that by law cannot be used for operations, only infrastructure necessitated as a direct result of the type of construction paying the fee.

Commissioner Manning is simply suggesting a short-term break in fees that the county's own study have shown are too high.

He's not sure it will spur growth but wants to give still-struggling businesses a break.

And maybe, just maybe, put some of our neighbors back to work

It's an admirable goal. And one whose bottom-line impact is likely to be less than the raw numbers appear.

We urge his fellow board members to approve the moratorium.

We then urge Cape Coral to quickly follow suit.

- Citizen editorial



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