Adopting new impact fees at the full justifiable level would put Sarasota County in third place on a list with eight comparable counties

New single-family housing fees for range of services expected to increase expense of a 2,000-square-foot home by $1,400

Clancy J. Mullen. News Leader photo
Clancy J. Mullen. News Leader photo

Adding up all of the current impact fees for services except those for roads and schools makes Sarasota County’s total second-highest on a list showing eight comparison counties, with only Collier charging more, the Sarasota County Commission has learned.

However, if road and school fees are added in for each of the counties, the current fees put Sarasota County fourth-highest on the list, behind Collier, Pasco and Lake counties,

Clancy J. Mullen, a principal with Duncan Associates of Austin, Texas, and Chicago, told the County Commission on March 9. The firm is working with county staff to update seven types of fees that date to a 2006-07 study. They are for parks, library services, fire and rescue, emergency medical services, law enforcement, justice and general government.

Adding in the updated fees would put Sarasota County third behind Collier and Pasco, Mullen said in his March 9 presentation.

The numbers were pegged to construction of a new 2,000-square-foot house, according to a slide Mullen showed the board.

The 100-percent level of the recommended impact fees for the seven types of county services for the new 2,000-square-foot home — minus road and school fees — would be $5,841, while the current level is $4,397, according to a slide. Combining all the fees would make the total $12,607, Mullen said, compared to the current level of $11,163.

Collier’s total fees — including roads and schools — add up to $19,547, Mullen noted. For Pasco, the figure is $14,855.

After Manatee County phases in its school impact fees to the 100-percent level over the next two years, he continued, that county will have a higher total than Sarasota County as well.

“Sarasota County charges the full range of [the seven specific] fees … and [it] has not discounted any of these [since they were implemented],” Mullen told the County Commission.

“I think this is really an important moment,” Commissioner Christine Robinson said. “It needs to be crystal clear that these fees have not been reduced.” An incorrect statement about their status has been printed in publications the past, she explained, noting, “There is such bad information out in the community over this.”

“I appreciate including the other fees,” Commissioner Charles Hines told Mullen, referring to the chart with the road and school figures. “It’s so hard to get an apples-to-apples comparison. Each county is different.”

A chart compares county impact fee totals, minus those fees for roads and schools. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A chart compares county impact fee totals, minus those fees for roads and schools. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A chart compares impact fees with those for schools and roads. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A chart compares impact fees with those for schools and roads. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The County Commission adopted a Mobility Plan and Mobility Fee on Sept. 8, 2015, and school impact fees went into effect on Jan. 26, Beth Rozansky, the county’s impact fee administrator, pointed out in a March 9 memo.

Staff plans to come back to the County Commission on April 27 with proposed ordinances to update the other seven types of fees, her memo notes. At that time, the memo says, the commission can authorize advertisement of the ordinances and the setting of public hearings on them.

In response to a question from Chair Al Maio on March 9, Rozansky presented a slide showing that water and sewer capacity fees for a new single-family home — regardless of size — would add approximately $5,400 to the expense on top of the total of the impact fees. As of Jan. 1, the full range of fees for a house between 2,000 and 2,999 square feet would be $16,728.31, the chart shows.

During the discussion, Robinson also asked about handling impact fees in regard to affordable housing, seeking clarification from County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh.

“You could, for instance, discount affordable housing [fees],” DeMarsh told her. However, money would have to be taken out of the county’s General Fund to provide such supplements, he added. The board also can set fees at less than the 100-percent rate, he pointed out.

“You can’t favor one type of housing over another,” she summed up his response.

“No, you cannot,” DeMarsh told Robinson.

It has been suggested that the county discount fees for affordable housing, she pointed out, but the General Fund “is our most stressed found out of all of them.”

To his knowledge, DeMarsh replied, no study has been undertaken to calculate an impact fee directed at affordable housing, and that type of documentation would be the only legally defensible justification for charging a different set of fees for such homes.

“It actually hurts that effort [to build affordable homes] in many respects,” Robinson said. Yet, such housing “is in the minds of a lot of people in this county.”

“A great, great point,” Maio told her.

Commissioner Carolyn Mason also thanked Robinson for bringing up the matter. “It’s unfortunate,” Mason added of the situation with the impact fees, “but that’s the way it is.”

A chart shows total current fees for residential housing in Sarasota County, with water and sewer capacity fees. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A chart shows total current fees for residential housing in Sarasota County, with water and sewer capacity fees. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Questions and answers

In a recap of some of the primary points he made to the County Commission on Dec. 9, 2015, Mullen pointed out that because the mobility fees the county adopted reduced the number of residential unit categories from nine to three, the impact fee update his firm has been working on has taken the same approach.

“Land costs are down,” compared to the 2006-07 timeframe, when the last study was undertaken, he continued. “Building costs are up, though.”

Furthermore, Mullen pointed out, the new study takes into account all the expenses associated with construction — from site development to environmental mitigation.

Mullen also told the board on March 9 that, since Dec. 9, 2015, he and county staff members have held stakeholder meetings and a roundtable with developers. They also have offered outreach to the municipalities and prepared a fact sheet to help educate the public about the coming changes.

Beth Rozansky. News Leader photo
Beth Rozansky. News Leader photo

A number of questions have arisen as a result of the outreach, he continued. For example, Mullen said, one person asked why the law enforcement fees were separate from the justice fees. The reason, he explained, is that law enforcement serves just the unincorporated area of the county, while the justice system serves the entire county.

Another question regarded whether higher fees are necessary in all areas, he said, adding that that is a policy matter for the board.

Yet another query focused on the fact that some of the data utilized for the study goes back to 2014. “We can’t really, always have the most current available data, ’cause we’d never be finished [with the study],” Mullen explained. “It’s really a snapshot in time.”

In response to a question about why all the land costs were based on the expense of park property, Mullen noted that the bulk of the county’s land acquisitions over the past decade have been for parks, and that property served as the baseline for the study.

Because the county’s current fees are pegged to nine-year old studies, Mullen told the board, his firm’s recommendation is for the implementation of updated fees, as state law requires local government bodies to base their fees on the most recent data.

If the commissioners do choose to discount some of the fees, he pointed out, they should apply the same percentage to all land use categories for a particular fee, “to maintain the proportionality of the fees.”

Among the next steps, Mullen said, will be continued stakeholder outreach, further engagement with the municipalities and preparation of the ordinances for the board’s review in preparation for advertising them and holding public hearings.