Charlotte County deals with state law limiting impact fees

Editor’s Note:  If developers do not pay sufficient impact fees to provide services for new construction, then existing property owners must subsidize the services for these new projects through higher property taxes. This new law strips away home rule control and transfers it to Tallahassee!  

By Betsy Calvert, Charlotte Sun Staff Writer, Jun 28, 2021

Charlotte County is acquiescing to a new state law that prevents it from increasing developer impact fees as high as officials had hoped.

Charlotte County commissioners voted 3-1 last week to keep the old impact fees for new construction. In a contradictory move, they also voted to adopt a new study that recommends much higher fees. It was a stop gap measure aimed at making sure the county had some impact fees as of July 1, when the current ones expire. The new study, however, sets the stage for the county to argue for an exception to the new state limits, which is allowed. Staff have advised commissioners to request an exception in the near future, but for now, to keep the existing rates.

In an effort to prevent local governments from imposing steep development fees, legislators this year passed a law that limits increases to a maximum of 50% over four years. To prevent last-minute increases, legislators made the law retroactive to Jan. 1.

County staff, however, advised commissioners that Charlotte County is limited to 3.5% increases for two years, in contrast to a 41% increase that commissioners were considering for single-family homes. Why Charlotte County would be more restricted than the state law was a complicated explanation having to do with going across the board of all property types, said Deputy County Administrator Claire Jubb, and picking a common denominator. The county had planned to increase rates differently for each property type, with some commercial property rates going down. Mostly, however, the goal was to raise single-family fees by at least 41% if not higher.

Impact fees help governments pass on to developers the cost of development in terms of new roads, fire stations, libraries and emergency services.

Charlotte County commissioners continued with their criticism of Florida legislators, who enacted many laws this year limiting the ability of local governments to set their own rules.

“I would put this new legislation into the sanitation unit, into a trash can, because it’s pure garbage,” said Commissioner Joe Tiseo, who has argued for steeper increases to keep up to speed with a recent explosion in residential development.

Even commissioners who oppose steep increases object to the legislature imposing its will on local government.

“I have difficulty finding any logic or reason,” Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch said of the new law. “The frustrating thing is that our, quote, conservative Republican legislature would move on a piece of legislation to abrogate our home rule.”

Reached for comment, State Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte, offered a rebuttal to the accusation of being a bad Republican.

“If I’m criticized for rolling back a huge tax increase, I’ll take the credit,” he told The Daily Sun, adding that tax relief will help the economy recover from the pandemic. “After all, I’m a Reagan Republican. Those arguing for fee increases are more like Charlie Crist Republicans.”

While Charlotte County debates its next step during a spectacular development boom, Seminole County is increasing its fees as of today, June 29. Some of those fees are going up seven times, according to reporting by the Orlando Sentinel. Single-family homes will go up by 87% in some cases, in one fell swoop.

Charlotte County has only one fee for single-family homes. That fee is currently $4,409.

The Charlotte DeSoto Building Industry Association opposes big increases. It commissioned a study showing that fees could push housing costs beyond the price of typical local residents.

Charlotte County’s fees are far less than neighboring coastal counties.