Commissioners reverse course on impact fees

Posted on November 13, 2019 by Romi White

“Our schools are full,” Santa Rosa County School Board Member Jennifer Granse told county commissioners on Monday. The school district approached commissioners last spring, seeking impact fees as a funding source, but at the time the commission rejected the idea, siding with area developers who argued against it.

Santa Rosa County Commissioners last spring rejected pleas from Santa Rosa County School District to consider impact fees as a funding source to address population growth. This week the board not only changed its course on education impact fees but also decided to look at reinstating them to meet county needs.

The reversal comes on the heels of the October 8 landslide defeat of the county’s effort to double the local option sales tax.

Gage Schlegel, a candidate for the District 3 County Commission race, told the board on Monday he would have supported the tax increase if impact fees had been reinstated first. It’s a sentiment many residents expressed leading up to the election, accusing commissioners of favoring developers who have historically made significant financial contributions to the campaigns of several board members.

“Don’t be bullied by the building industry,” said East Milton resident Wallis Mahute, encouraging commissioners to help the school district.

Linda Sanborn and Jennifer Granse, two elected members of the school board, attended Monday’s commission meeting.

“Our schools are full,” Granse told the commission. “We need schools.”

District 5 Commissioner Lane Lynchard voiced support for the action.

“This is a school impact fee, the school board has opted to move forward with this fee. Our obligation is to implement the fee they have approved. That’s our statutory obligation because they don’t have the ability to implement the fee. Our sole charge is to implement the fee that this duly elected school board has opted to impose. I’m viewing our action as ministerial in nature,” Lynchard said.

The school district aims for the board to impose a new construction impact fee of $5,000 for single family homes and $1,500-$3,000 for multi-family units — based on a study by Gene Bowles, a consultant who was commissioned by the school district.

But David Peaden, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Northwest Florida, argued against impact fees, describing them as a “regressive” tax ultimately paid by consumers, not developers.

“Growth is paying for growth,” Peaden said, questioning the school district’s need for the additional funding source. “They’ve had the largest budget in school history with $366 million, and it’s grown by $21 million annually over the past five years.”

Peaden went on to accuse school board members of following the lead of Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick. “They’re being led by the administration, and I think it’s the wrong way to go.”

Commissioners on Thursday will formally vote on whether or not to have County Attorney Roy Andrews work with Paul Green, attorney for the school district, to draft an ordinance to impose the education impact fees. That draft would be presented to the board during their December meeting, when a public hearing would be scheduled for January.

Additionally, commissioners voted to approve $60,000 for a study to explore reinstating impact fees as a funding source for the county’s law enforcement, transportation and recreation needs.

Santa Rosa County previously had impact fees which generated about $3.3 million per year. Those fees were suspended in 2009 before being terminated.