Taxpayers pay for growth


New Florida housing
New Florida housing

Lee County’s population has grown 24% since 2010 according to Lee County’s 2021 Financial Report. The Cape Coral/Fort Myers area ranked in the top ten among midsized metro areas for building the most new housing units. New developments require infrastructure – roads, schools, parks, EMS and fire services, etc. to accommodate all of the additional people.

That is why we have impact fees.

Impacts fees are one-time charges assessed to builders and developers of new residential and commercial properties. The purpose is to help pay for increased infrastructure demands created by the new growth. This includes transportation needs, schools, parks, and fire and emergency medical services.

Lee County’s 2021 Financial Report states that impact fees have increased 324% in the previous 5 years. You may be wondering, “why, then, is traffic still so horrendous?”

Let’s go back to 2013. There was a recession, so to encourage construction, the county discounted impact fees by 80%. That is, developers paid only 20% of the assessed impact fee. This reduced collection rate was extended until 2015 when the rate went up to 45%, where it stayed until 2018. In March of 2018 the County passed an ordinance setting a 2.5% per year increase over the new base rate for the next five years (except fire and EMS which remained at 100%).

Lee County impact fees, 2013-2022
Lee County Impact Fees, 2013-2022

If that seems like a lot of lost revenue, you are correct. From 2013 until the end of 2021, the county has surrendered $227,597,514. It has collected only $185 million of the nearly $413 million deemed necessary to cover the costs of roads, parks and schools. These things are still needed. Taxpayers are covering the costs that should have been paid by developers, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

But wait, wasn’t a new law about impact fees passed recently?

Yes. Last year Governor DeSantis signed into law a bill that limits the extent to which local governments can increase impact fees imposed on builders and developers as follows:

  • Impact fees may only be increased once every four years;
  • Impact fees may be increased by no more than 50%;
  • Increases between 25% and 50% must be phased-in over four years in four equal installments; and
  • Increases less than 25% must be phased-in over two years in two equal installments.

Local governments may only exceed these impact fee limits if they demonstrate that there are “extraordinary circumstances requiring the additional increase.” They would also have to hold at least two workshops and approve the increases by at least a two-thirds vote.

Lee County needs smart growth. We need leaders with a vision, leaders who will collect and utilize impact fees in conjunction with sound land use planning in order to avoid sprawl and protect our natural resources.