Public input sought in changing collection of developers’ fees

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – County commissioners want more discussion and input from the general public before deciding whether to change the timing of collecting developers’ fees.

Commissioners are considering collecting impact fees at the time developers receive their certificate of occupancy rather than when they receive their building permit. The change would buy developers time in paying the fees, which at least one commissioner believes could help spark new development. Commissioners Peter O’Bryan, Bob Solari and Joe Flescher voted in favor of sending the matter to public hearing – calling out for public input and more discussion prior to a final vote. Commissioners Gary Wheeler and Wesley Davis voted against the move.

Impact fees are fees the county assesses on developments to pay for its share of the burden to county services.

County staff members argued that the commissioners should not change the way impact fees are collected, citing some 58 percent of other Florida counties collect impact fees at the beginning of the project, rather than at the end.

The arguments didn’t hold water for Commissioner Solari, who called the arguments “paternalistic.”

“Anybody who can build a big project, basically can manage his money well enough or if he doesn’t that’s his problem, not the government’s problem,” Solari said, adding, “I don’t think that we need to worry about every aspect from the developer’s side.”

Community Development Director Bob Keating brought up concerns that developers might not have enough cash on hand at the end of their projects to pay the impact fees or they might dispute the amount the county says they owe.

He also said that postponing the collection of the fees could delay the county from being able to construct infrastructure improvements necessary to handle the increased demand for roads, utilities and other services the development would create.

Solari said the funding delay might be an issue in the future, but it “strikes at the heart of the issue” of short-term economic development, which is one of the commission’s goals.

“The economic development possibilities outweigh the funding delay issues,” Solari said.

Commissioner Gary Wheeler opposed changing the way the county collects the impact fees, citing concerns that residential developers might sell the houses to residents without informing the homebuyers that they owe thousands of dollars to the county to receive their certificate of occupancy.

“I’m here to protect the consumer, not the developer,” Wheeler said.

He asked if it would be possible to split the payment of the impact fees to have developers pay at the time of receiving a building permit and the certificate of occupancy.

“I could support that,” Wheeler said, explaining that collecting the water and sewer and utility impact fees at the start would mean the county would have the money needed for related construction projects. It would also put consumers at less risk should the developer fail to pay the remainder of the impact fee prior to selling the property.

County Administrator Joe Baird recommended against splitting the collection, telling commissioners that, while it could be done, it would be labor intensive for staff.

“I don’t know which way I want to go,” Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan said, adding that he believes more discussion and public input is needed before deciding.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to take the matter to a public hearing, which is expected to be held at an upcoming board meeting.

The county has suspended collecting five of the nine impact fees assessed on development, which include emergency services facilities, correctional facilities, public buildings, law enforcement, and solid waste facilities.

The four that have not been suspended include transportation, parks and recreation, libraries and schools. Of those, commercial developers only pay the transportation impact fees.

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