As the issue of impact fees continues to swirl in Santa Rosa County, a new state bill that is expected to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis could affect the future of impact fees in the fast growing county.
House Bill 337 caps impact fee increases to no more than 12.5% in a given year and no more than 50% over a four-year period. That requires states to “phase in” impact fee increases over a several-year period, instead of making big changes all at once.
“What the issue is for any county or jurisdiction that hasn’t already adopted an impact fee, it’s just going to require them, when they do future raises and as they think about five to 10 years down the road, you don’t just need to be doing 40, 50, 60% increases at one time,” said Rusty Payton, the CEO of the Florida Homebuilders Association, who is based out of Tallahassee. “It’s just too disruptive to the system.”
The bill doesn’t affect counties that are looking to impose an initial impact fee. So Santa Rosa County, for instance, does not currently have impact fees, although the county did pass an impact fee ordinance at the behest of the school board in January 2020. That impact fee would be $5,000 for single-family houses, $4,000 for mobile homes and $2,750 for multi-family units.
The plan was for the county to collect the impact fees and distribute them to the school board, which would use the fees to pay for new schools. However, in April 2020 the Home Builders Association of West Florida sued the school board and the county, saying the impact fees were unconstitutional, and Santa Rosa County Circuit Judge Darlene Dickey in July 2020 ruled the county must cease collecting impact fees until the case is decided.
As of Friday, the First Circuit Court of Appeals still has not decided the case, and the impact fees are in limbo. Dickey declined to comment on the status of the case or the bill’s potential impact on the case to the News Journal, saying it would be “improper” since it’s a pending case.
Payton, however, confirmed HB 337 won’t affect counties that are looking to start an initial impact fee.
“The bill doesn’t say anything about if you don’t have an impact fee, you can only come out of the gate and charge X,” Payton said. “The bill looks at when you get to X, you can only go up X-plus.”
So, if a judge ultimately rules in the school board’s favor, Santa Rosa would be able to go from $0 in impact fees to $5,000 in impact fees with no problem.
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However, the county is also considering implementing additional impact fees on top of the school board fees. The fees would be divided into roads, parks and infrastructure and would also be considered new impact fees. They would range from $417 per square foot of a warehouse to $3,338 per square foot of a retail space. A single-family home would be a total of $3,004 on top of the initial cost of the house.
If implemented along with educational impact fees, the fees could total more than $8,000 for a new, single-family home.
The county’s three new fees would also each be considered brand new impact fees that could be established at a beginning rate, but would have to be increased in phases in the future if the county does establish them.
Once the county passes impact fee ordinances, that’s when HB 337 will begin being applicable, according to Santa Rosa County administrator Dan Schebler.
“The school board impact fee is on the books at $5,000, so if this court case turns out in favor of the county and the school district, that $5,000 impact fee is fine the way it is,” Schebler said. “But the study the school district did showed that they could charge a maximum of $8,800. So if the school district came back and said we want to go from $5,000 to $7,500, they couldn’t do that in a single year.”
So, essentially, HB 337 won’t affect brand-new impact fees like the ones being considered in Santa Rosa, but it will temper the ability of counties to raise those impact fees once they’re established.
What about concurrency fees?
In Escambia County, impact fees are not imposed or even in development, but County Commissioner Jeff Bergosh is hoping to implement concurrency, which is a similar model to impact fees but it is enacted on a case-by-case basis depending on the need at that particular site.
The county did have concurrency until 2013 but phased it out when then-Gov. Rick Scott phased it out, and there haven’t been any concurrency or impact fees since that time.
The OLF-8 development in the fast-growing suburb of Beulah has fueled recent discussion on the fees, as officials look to adding a multiuse development made up of commercial, retail, public amenities and green space that is expected to become a kind of downtown hub for the suburb.
“Impact fees aren’t a very popular topic, it brings passion among builders and no-growth advocates. … I don’t support it across the board, but I do support targeted concurrency,” Bergosh said.
He said he’s not sure of the impact of the bill on concurrency, but it’s something county officials will need to keep track of if discussion about imposing fees on developers gains support from the other commissioners.
The last year has seen explosive growth in the Panhandle, and much of Florida, as newly remote workers seek out beaches and a place to work without state income tax, experts have said. That has helped fuel the demand for new developments, and people like Bergosh believe that developers still will be attracted to the region even if they need to add on an additional fee to build.
If signed into law as expected, the impact fee bill will go into effect immediately.
Annie Blanks can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8632.