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News Section: Opinion



How Do We Measure the Impact?

Published Monday, August 4, 2014 12:04 am

At the July 30 budget meeting, commissioners and staff struggled to find funds that would make the county whole again. The emotional expressions of unsettled anguish that poured into the camera and audience had more drama than can be found in any downtown theater. And it was all at the expense of the public, because there is something our officials won't tell you.

 

For the last nine months I have navigated through the hierarchy of Manatee County's utilities department, public works department, the county commission and the administrator's office with one question. How much does it cost to take a 14" pipe to Parrish?

 

I asked that question, because for two years no one would answer the previous question I had been asking: How does the county calculate impact fees? I never got an answer, so I narrowed the question down to a 14" pipe. 

 

To a layman that might seem a little vague, but to all of those in the departments I referenced, they knew exactly what I was referring to; it was the cost of infrastructure (police, fire, water, sewer, storm water, law enforcement, schools and parks) that, if not covered by new development impact fees, will become a calculated cost to the rest of us.

 

Look at it this way; if I am running people to the airport for $40, and the trip cost me $60 to get them there, increasing the number of trips will only increase my losses.

 

But don't tell that to Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker and Commissioners Benac and Baugh, because they stated at the July 30 meeting that "further development isn't the problem, it is the fix." 

 

"There's a hole in daddy's arm where all of the money goes" - John Prine

 

Impact fees are a one-time tax levied on all new residential and commercial development to offset the cost of growth’s “impact” on services like schools (which are levied in a separate fee by the school district) roads, parks, ambulance and fire, along with other infrastructure needs such as water and sewer hook-ups that the new residents will require, especially when services need to be extended to previously uninhabited or largely rural parts of that city or county.

Florida was actually one of the states that developed the concept almost four decades ago as a way for them to remain a low corporate and zero income tax state, while still being able to provide the necessary services of government. While developers argued that it would discourage growth and development, one look at Florida growth trends and historical land development maps quickly dismisses such claims.

Arguments that adequate impact fees lower property values also fall flat. In fact, a lack of adequate impact fees artificially lowers the price for newly-constructed homes, shifting the cost of growth onto existing homes and/or lowering the quality of life by reducing services (which actually does hurt property values). Meanwhile, putting that cost on the new development raises the ultimate selling price of new construction which lifts property values for the entire market, including existing homes. The idea that adding an increase in artificially-cheap supply to any market makes it more healthy and not less, defines basic economics.

 

The reason why developers like Carlos Beruff and Pat Neal prey upon this county, destroying wetlands, erasing pastoral hamlets and crowding rural roads is simple: our impact fees fall far below the cost to the county, and far below the fees of surrounding counties.

 

And if that is not enough, "special approvals" (variances and modifications to the rules set in our Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan) can save a developer millions of dollars; and when it comes to clients like Beruff and Neal, there is seldom a project where exceptions are not granted.

 

Road projects like 44th Avenue, a highly-opposed $100 million endeavor that will really only service Beruff and Neal developments, will see taxpayers, not the developer, picking up the tab. And while developers are quick to note that impact fees can only be used for their specified purpose and can't solve other problems in the budget, it stands to reason that when other monies are paying for things that could in fact be covered by impact fees, it is precisely all of those other problems in the budget that suffer when they are told, sorry, we just can't afford it.

 

Think about all of the factors associated with new development where none used to exist. A bunch of homes in some previously undeveloped part of the county not only means more water and sewer lines, but Sheriff Department patrols (and the gas that fuels them), more calls for service, more demand for parks and libraries. Does the budget reflect a growth in spending on all of these services that is commensurate with the growth in development? Certainly not. In fact, all of the development in Lakewood Ranch and other east of the interstate development has not produced a single library for that area. And while the Braden River branch, which is closest to that area, has seen a big spike in usage, they've consistently seen their hours and funding cut rather than expanded. Again, these quality of life, government services do little to make our county more attractive. 

 

The commission also tells residents frequently that some roads and/or port projects are "not county funds." This is to give the impression that it's not your money -- but it is. It is either state or federal funds (your money) slated to come back to the county for projects -- projects that now won't face the same public scrutiny.

 

South of University Parkway in Sarasota County, the impact fees for a 3 bedroom/2 bath house are $12,035; but just one block north in Manatee County, impact fees for the same house are $6,249. That's a $5,786 disparity. 

 

That means that for every 1,000 homes built, Sarasota collects $5,786,000 more in revenue then does Manatee in impact fees. There are 30,000 homes slated for build-out in Manatee County over the next 10 years, most to be built north of SR 64+ and in the vicinity of Cortez where infrastructure will have to be extended. Do the math: $173,580,000. That is one hundred and seventy three million, five hundred and eighty-six thousand dollars less than if the homes were built in Sarasota County.

 

At Wednesday's meeting, Commissioner Benac and Hunzeker invited anyone to come forward with an idea to help them make their budget mark. But when the hammer hit to adjourn the meeting, I went forward and suggested increasing the inept impact fees and getting rid of special approvals, Hunzeker said, "We are looking into that," then turned and walked away. 

 

There is a hole where all the money goes and they're pouring a concrete slab over it as we speak.

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Clearly those, who should serve the public good, instead aid the few at the expense of the many.
Posted by Nancy R Dean on August 7, 2014
 

common since dictates more infrastructure in all areas when growth comes and common since sais the people will be bleed till the turnip is dry, and lame brain politicians will still be calculating the cost well after dolling out corporate welfare as if it grows on trees.

Easy come easy go its all about over bearing government going wild, and the public only taking notice when they are down to bread and water raising's while Politicians' milk the corps for money for votes and under the table benefits.

Its math 101, and politicians sleeping during GBT in school, and never ever studying for them selves the real cost.

When things go south it was the fault of the prostitute planning members led by prostitute high dollar government employees paid by public money, to produce power points that focus 100 percent on any imaginary false positives coming from, allowing special accept ions out the rear to any corrupt benefit flaunting developer.

For the most part development is a lose lose situation to Joe the plumber, when the needs of infrastructure surface after being muffled to swing votes for growth, regardless the writing on the wall and historical calamities that plague government fools.

Yes one blogger says its against the law, I suspect he is correct, as we see statutes that are supposed to guide politicians, in the great public money waste called creating economic development.

The Economic development scamps Scott and county leaders are pouring public money into, fall in the same category, our corrupt leaders violate most all statutes that dictate things like any corporation or recipient of these free dollars are required to have their own finances that would be needed for all infrastructure the particular development would bring on the public system, to date we have never seen a single one with any skin in the game.

The infrastructure monkey all ways fall on the tax payers (Joe the plumber).
like the none profit electric corps, you join and pay the cost thereafter as long as you live you pay the cost for new development which increases daily, I say let the new comer pay his way we paid ours and never ever quit paying for others that come just as John describes in development.

Development also increases need for professional liars many of which public money pay for in huge salaries, they specialize in laying out bogus presentations, under the hat of professional planners, when the real profession is lying and bogus song and dance to the tune of more taxes on the public.
Posted by Frank Kirkland on August 4, 2014
 

Minimal impact fees and specific and special approvals are all gifts the County gives to developers which come out of citizens pockets. This has got to stop. The County Administrator at the last contentious BOCC meeting stated in a low voice but very audible that development pays its way. Not true, look at the facts and figures. Mr. Cohen this is not a tax. Every time you need the police to come, turn on your water, put on a light, and flush a toilet which are basic human necessities are you looking for all of us citizens to pay for that for you. The developers keep building which requires roads, lights, water, sewer, and maybe schools and libraries to be built. If they don't pay sufficient or any impact fees for their development then you and the rest of the citizens of Manatee County pay the bills.
Posted by Barbara Angelucci on August 4, 2014
 

Excellent John. Why does not a courageous commissioner proposed a 50% increase in impact fees? Then watch the squirming, hemming and hawing. A study will be suggested from one of the developers' darlings betraying their servitude to Neal and Beruff. We need to stress this at the 8/12 commission. What fun to watch the circus of dodges these four commissioners: Chappie, Whitmore, Benack and -Bustle all who got their seat by the hundreds of thousands of dollars from Neal and Beruff. Demand these clowns do not run the county; the people do.
Posted by joe kane on August 4, 2014
 

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