Following up on questions board members posed in September, staff is to propose more categories for single-family homes and offer figures for the same types of fees in a broader range of counties
On Tuesday, Nov. 8, in Venice, the Sarasota County Commission once again will address updated impact fees for a range of services the county provides — from libraries to parks to law enforcement. By that time, staff is expected to have provided responses to four sets of requests the board made on Sept. 6, which it wanted before choosing how best to proceed.
The new information will focus on a broadening of housing categories to include smaller, affordable dwellings; data regarding impact fees charged by counties in other parts of the state that were not included in the earlier staff presentation; how the funds charged for general government purposes are used; and more precise information about projects on which the impact fees could be used over the next 10 years — the period they have been proposed to be in effect.
The effort to implement new fees has been going on for about two years, Clancy J. Mullen, the consultant who has worked with the county on the project, told the board on Sept. 6. It was his understanding, he added, that the initiative would be completed within about six months.
Staff originally had proposed that the new impact fees go into effect on Jan. 1. By law, a 90-day comment period ensues after their adoption, staff has explained. However, on Sept. 6, commission Chair Alan Maio pointed out that while it would be convenient to use the start of the new year as the effective date, it was not imperative that the county do so.
During his Sept. 6 presentation, Tom Polk, the county’s impact fees administrator, explained that the group of seven fees the board was addressing had not been updated since 2008. However, new mobility and educational impact fees had been implemented, he noted.
The fees under consideration will pay for additional facilities necessitated by new development, Polk added.
Among the biggest changes, he continued, had been condensing the size ranges for single-family homes from nine to three and adjusting the multi-family fee to a flat rate per unit. The total of new fees for a house ranging from 1,500 to 3,500 square feet would be $1,664 higher, Polk noted, while the sum for a new multi-family dwelling would rise by $1,044. For a single-family dwelling less than 1,500 square feet, the new total would rise by $1,806.
For retail and commercial establishments of 1,000 square feet, the increase would be $1,235.
In comparing other counties’ fees for a single-family home between 1,500 and 3,500 square feet to those figures proposed at the 100% level for Sarasota County, Polk continued, Sarasota’s current level puts it higher than all others except Collier. The total for Sarasota County is $4,397, while the new combined fees would be $6,061. Collier’s total is $6,679.
The total updated impact fees — including those for schools and mobility — for the typical single-family home in Sarasota County would be $12,827, compared to the current level of $11,163.
The other counties included in the comparison list were Polk, Hillsborough, Lake, Lee, Charlotte, Pasco and Manatee.
Manatee’s fees are at the 80% level, Polk pointed out; they will increase to the 100% mark in April 2018. Even at the full level for Manatee, he said, Sarasota’s total would be slightly higher.
Staff was recommending the commissioners approve the fees at the 100% level, Polk said.
As she had during a discussion of the proposed fees in July, Commissioner Christine Robinson raised the concern that while the money will be collected for projects planned to be built over the decade following implementation of the fees, the county Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) covers only five years. That plan lists projects in order of priority.
After the board complained in July about the list of potential facilities that could be paid for by the new fees, Robinson told Polk, staff offered a more general list to the board on Aug. 22. “But they aren’t solidified as CIPs,” she pointed out.
“Correct,” Polk responded, adding, however, that each county department every year develops a list of potential projects for the CIP; the board updates that list every year as part of its budget process.
Those are for the next five years, she reminded him. The problem with adopting impact fees for 10 years while having a five-year CIP, she continued, is “that we have not vetted [the long-range projects pegged to the impact fees] to the degree that a CIP project is vetted.”
She did not dispute that the impact fee revenue would be used, she said. “You can give us a pot of money, and I guarantee you we will spend it.”
Polk told her staff’s intent was to suggest projects that potentially could be identified in the five years beyond the scope of the CIP “to meet capacity needs in the future.”
Vic Chair Paul Caragiulo said he did not doubt that growth in the county over the next 10 years will necessitate the construction of a number of new facilities. Still, he concurred with Robinson about the lack of specificity about “what we are promising to deliver.”
Robinson also asked how staff and the consulting firm that undertook the impact fee study — Duncan Associates of Austin, Texas, and Chicago — came up with the list of comparison counties.
Polk responded that the decision was made to focus on counties in the region. County Administrator Tom Harmer then added that for such purposes, county policy generally calls for staff to use Charlotte, Collier, Lee and Manatee counties.
Robinson told Harmer she felt it would be important “that we understand what’s going on outside the region, too,” so counties in the Panhandle and on Florida’s east coast should be included for reference.
Maio voiced concerns about the condensation of the categories for single-family homes. “I think staff is making the case that we didn’t build very many of those, so we might be worrying about something that doesn’t need to be worried about.” Nonetheless, Maio continued, “I’ll say this as gently as I know how: Because we have failed to build these much smaller, affordable houses doesn’t mean that it justifies not plugging in an additional rate, and, frankly, whether it’s nine rates, three rates, four rates, five rates,” he added, he expected a technician would just use a computer program to come up with the appropriate impact fee, based on the category of home size.
Maio pointed out that during the discussion earlier this year, he was among the commissioners who asked for a category that included homes with lower square footages than the proposed new list contained. He and his wife have spent a considerable amount of time looking at houses over the years, Maio noted. “A great many of the houses … are under 2,500 square feet.” He added that Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofit organizations build smaller dwellings that are affordable. “Many of our citizens would love to live in a 1,000-square-foot house that they can own and afford.”
Robinson agreed. Because the commission has identified affordable housing as one of its priorities, she said, and the county legally cannot lower its impact fees for such dwellings, it would make sense to have as many categories for single-family homes as possible, so people would end up paying lower impact fees.
Caragiulo also voiced concern about the proposal of a single category for multi-family dwellings. “Perhaps the focus hasn’t been on [multi-family homes in the community],” Caragiulo said. “But I still believe that’s the most deliverable product.”
Commissioner Charles Hines suggested another multi-family category for dwellings between 600 and 800 square feet.
Maio told Polk, that if fees for are implemented for smaller homes, and many of them ultimately are not built over the next 10 years, “I am not going to be the least bit embarrassed.”
The next steps
After four public speakers urged the board members to direct staff to pursue more research in response to their questioning, Matt Osterhoudt, interim director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, stepped to the podium to make certain he had the complete list of issues the commissioners wanted to address in a follow-up discussion.
After he made sure he had covered all the topics, the commissioners debated about the date to which they should continue the public hearing. After County Administrator Harmer pointed out that time would be available on the Nov. 8 and Dec. 13 agendas, Commissioner Carolyn Mason made a motion to go with Dec. 13. Polk also argued for the later date, so staff would have sufficient time to address the issues the board had raised.
However, after the consultant, Mullen, pointed out how drawn-out the process had been, Hines suggested the earlier date. “This has been going on and on and on,” Hines said.
Moreover, Hines told his colleagues, he felt that because Robinson and Mason would be leaving the board in late November as a result of term limits, they should be involved in the final vote.
Mason withdrew her motion, but she did oppose Hines’ subsequent motion to continue the public hearing until Nov. 8. The final vote was 4-1.