Commissioners say staff should not have included facilities that the board had not approved as priorities in its Capital Improvement Plan
On Sept. 6, the Sarasota County Commission is expected to hold a public hearing on proposed updates to seven impact fees that will be in effect for a decade.
Although the motion to advertise the public hearing was unanimous, it came only after board members chastised staff over the suggestion of specific projects they never vetted as justification for the 10-year timeline.
Bill Spaeth, a county planner, explained on July 12 that the new fees — covering parks, libraries and law enforcement, for example — will replace a 10-year-old set. The board already has approved mobility fees and, at the Sarasota County School Board’s request, the implementation of school impact fees.
Among the major changes with the other seven, Spaeth pointed out, are 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 highest impact fee in the new set would be for a single-family dwelling larger than 3,500 square feet: $6,802. For a single-family residence between 1,500 and 3,500 square feet, the total would be $6,061.
Spaeth pointed out that the current maximum for a single-family home for the seven types of fees is $4,397, which puts Sarasota County in second place in a list of peer counties for the amount of fees charged. However, Spaeth said, several of those counties are raising fees gradually. For example, Manatee County’s rate is 80 percent of the justifiable maximum. It will increase its fees to the 100-percent level on April 18, 2018, according to a chart Spaeth showed the board.
After mobility and school fees are added in, Spaeth said, Sarasota’s updated level — $12,827 — will put it in fourth place, behind Collier ($19,547), Manatee (at 100 percent, $15,415) and Pasco ($14,855).
Spaeth emphasized that impact fees are not designed “to build additional capacity. … [They are] to maintain your level of service.” He also pointed out that they have to meet the “dual-rational nexus test,” according to the law: The need for additional facilities is generated by new development; and the funds collected must be used for new facilities benefitting the new development.
Chair Al Maio voiced concern about decreasing the number of dwelling unit categories from nine to three, “because … the smaller-sized houses are likely to be the affordable housing.”
The updated impact fee total for a single-family detached home that is less than 1,500 square feet — for just the seven categories — would be $5,394. The current level is $1,806.
“We could have a more in-depth presentation on the rationale behind that change for the public hearing,” Spaeth replied.
“That’s a concern to me also,” Commissioner Charles Hines said, adding that he would like further discussion regarding that recommendation of the consulting firm that undertook the study — Duncan Associates.
Furthermore, Hines continued, he wanted to discuss whether the board should phase in the new fees, as other counties have been doing.
Commissioner Christine Robinson then asked about the “budget sheets” included as part of the backup agenda material for the July 12 discussion. One item on the list used to justify the fees, she noted, is “New North Venice Library in Laurel road area,” with the implication that $3 million in impact fees would be used for the project.
Another item was “Off Leash Dog Parks — Palmer Ranch.”
“I’ve never heard of any of these projects,” she told Spaeth, “and I’m perplexed.”
A third said, “New Jail not fully funded.” “Whoa,” Robinson added.
In early June, Maj. Jeff Bell of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, commander of courts and correctional services, showed the board a video detailing extensive structural problems with the county’s Detention Center. However, the board has not had a discussion about how to pay for an overhaul of the facilities or a new jail.
The list would be a reference point in the future for the public, Robinson told staff, with people saying to board members, “‘You never gave north Venice its library.’”
Robinson noted that the County Commission each year approves a five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which lists projects by priority; yet, these projects on the budget sheets are not in the CIP the board has tentatively approved starting in the 2017 fiscal year.
“The same thing popped out at me when I read this,” Maio said.
The sheets do note that these are examples of projects that could be pursued over the next 10 years, with use of impact fees, Vice Chair Paul Caragiulo pointed out.
Nonetheless, he concurred with Robinson and Maio: If the projects were linked to impact fees, “there is a de facto expectation [for them]. … You’re dangling a treat in front of someone, in essence …”
“So what do we do about it today?” Caragiulo asked.
“I will guarantee you that within two weeks’ time … someone will approach me and say, ‘Hey, Al, I hear we’re getting a new library off Laurel Road’” if that item stays in the budget sheets, Maio responded.
Then Tom Polk, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, explained that staff had included the projects as examples of those that might utilize the impact fees. “Capacity needs are being driven by the growth in the future,” he added. Prospective boards may consider undertaking those projects, he said.
“Would we do any harm by removing these from the document?” Maio asked.
“We certainly can remove these from the document,” Polk responded. However, Polk said, he was concerned that without a list, people would wonder why the county was collecting the fees.
“We have to justify it,” Robinson replied, referring to the fee schedule. The board should have been developing the list of potential projects at the same time the consulting firm was working on the updated fees, she pointed out.
“I have a philosophical problem with a 10-year timeline,” Caragiulo said. “I sympathize with Tom.” Caragiulo added that he was not sure how to handle the matter.
Polk told the board staff could remove the tables or try to improve them to reflect projects the commissioners have discussed.
Hines reiterated Robinson’s and Maio’s comments about the north Venice library on Laurel Road. It would have been better, Hines said, to use a general term such as “mid-county library” or “South County library.”
“I don’t know how to fix this issue,” Robinson added.
Commissioner Carolyn Mason suggested, “Maybe we can get some ideas between the authorization to advertise and the public hearing.”
Based on the commissioners’ comments, Polk replied, staff could revise the tables and bring them back.
“Short of [one-on-one discussions] with staff,” Maio pointed out, “we probably need to discuss this as a group, so there’s no time without delaying that Sept. 6 [public hearing].”
County Administrator Tom Harmer then proposed the board consider revised tables when it holds its final budget workshop on Aug. 22.
However, County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh cautioned the commissioners about making substantive changes to the material after they authorized advertisement of the hearing. It is necessary to give “appropriate complete notice to stakeholders and other governmental entities,” he added.
Jan. 1 is staff’s target date for putting the new fees into effect, Polk explained. Perhaps the public hearing could be postponed until late September, Polk suggested.
“The fee calculation stands on its own, separate from the [budget] sheets,” Harmer noted.
When Maio asked whether the Jan. 1 date is “cut in stone,” Polk replied that it is not. “It was a good timing from the standpoint of the beginning of the year,” Polk added.
Regardless of the effective date of the new fees, Maio said, “there will be folks getting as many [permit applications] in as possible before that date … It is not the end of the world [to change it].”
Polk reminded the commissioners that impact fees are paid at the time a Certificate of Occupancy is issued.
Mason ultimately made the motion to authorize the advertisement of the public hearing on Sept. 6, with Hines seconding it.