Impact Fees Are Drawing Interest; Only Duval, Putnam Not at Least Thinking about the Income

Article excerpt

Byline: KEN LEWIS, The Times-Union

In a meeting Thursday, staffers from Clay County and its School Board explored a possible increase in impact fees.

St. Johns County commissioners will have public meetings next month about proposed increases.

Flagler County more than doubled its impact fees last week. Nassau County doubled impact fees less than a year ago. And Baker County is completing a study about them.

In every county in Northeast Florida except Duval and Putnam, impact fees are shooting up -- or looking like they will soon. Charged to builders of new homes, developments, stores and the like, impact fees can provide funding for roadwork, schools, law enforcement, fire-rescue, emergency medical services and more. The counties charge builders for the expenses they are expected to generate in county services.

That means an extra $2,630 tacked on to a single-family home in St. Johns County, a fee passed on to the homeowner by the builder. It means an extra $5,270 tacked onto a single-family home in Flagler County.

Each county in the state designs its own impact fees, so some, like Clay County, only charge for school-related expenses. That translates to an extra $2,000 on a single-family home. Other counties, such as St. Johns, use the fees to pay for roads, schools, police, firefighters, rescue workers, parks and public buildings.

Duval County doesn't use impact fees because it pays for roadwork through sales tax with the Better Jacksonville Plan. A "fair-share" agreement charges developers if their subdivisions will require road improvements.

Across the state, higher impact fees generally correlate with higher populations and rates of growth. Orange County, for example, charges about $6,400 for a single-family home. But in comparatively small, slow-paced Putnam County, the commissioners abandoned the impact fees altogether in the 1990s.

"The reason it was repealed is because we weren't collecting enough money to do any good to the county," Putnam County budget officer Donald Bailey said.

Also, builders lobbied heavily against the impact fees, he said. Builders have maintained an active presence at county meetings as well, fighting against the increases. Opponents include the Northeast Florida Builders Association.

"Every time you increase the cost of the house, you knock out thousands of people from being able to afford a home," said Daniel Davis, associate director of the association. "It will be people like nurses, teachers, police officers and firemen. That is your workforce. And before long, they won't be able to afford a house. …