First District Court Sides with Home Builders and Affirm Injunction on Santa Rosa County’s School Impact Fee

Posted on July 28, 2021 by Romi White

Validating its assertions that Santa Rosa County’s school impact fee was inaccurately calculated and legally flawed, the Home Builders Association of West Florida and 11 additional plaintiffs applaud the July 28, 2021, decision by the First District Court of Appeal to affirm Santa Rosa Circuit Court Judge Darlene Dickey’s temporary injunction against collection of the fee.

The ordinance by the Board of County Commissioners in support of new funding for the School Board of Santa Rosa County went into effect May 1, 2020, with impact fees of $5,000 on each new home permitted in the county, $4,000 for each mobile home, and $2,750 for each multi-family dwelling.

Circuit Judge Darlene F. Dickey cited the county and school board’s failure to establish the state-mandated “rational nexus and proportionately” standards, which restrict the use of new impact fees to the capital facilities needed to address the impact of a new development. She also noted that the methodology used to establish the fee ignored important geographic and demographic factors distinguishing the unidentified “north” and “south” ends of the county, did not utilize the most recent and localized data, and contained numerous mathematical errors and inconsistencies.

First District Court of Appeal ruled: “Given this information, Appellants’ challenge to the first and third prongs of the trial court’s temporary injunction analysis fails. As the trial court properly exercised its discretion in granting Appellees’ motion for a temporary injunction, we affirm.”

“The First District Court of Appeal properly affirmed Judge Dickey’s well-reasoned decision,” said Ken Bell, counsel for Plaintiffs. Judge Dicky protected the citizens of Santa Rosa County from having to pay an unconstitutional tax disguised as an ‘impact fee’ that the former Superintendent and School Board convinced the county to impose.” In her 59-page order, Judge Dickey well-explains why the new ‘School Impact Fee’ imposed on all new residential construction is not a valid fee, but an unconstitutional tax.  Forcing someone struggling to afford a new mobile home in Allentown to pay a $4,000 ‘user fee’ so that others in Navarre or Gulf Breeze may have a new school is clearly not a ‘user fee’ but rather an unlawful tax.  The School Board may need to raise additional revenue to build new schools, but it must do so legally.”

HBA President Blaine Flynn of FlynnBuilt, LLC called the court’s decision a victory for citizens who need affordable housing, adding “this legal challenge is about accountability.  Everyone deserves to know if the School Board’s annual budget is being spent wisely and if there is really a need for an additional tax in the form of an impact fee.”

The HBA and a group of local businesses that develop residential communities and build apartments in Santa Rosa County are being represented in the legal challenge by a team of attorneys and experts, including: Ken Bell, Mike Tanner and Megan Moon of Gunster law firm, a statewide business law firm; HBA Legal Counsel Steve Moorhead of the Moorhead Real Estate Law Group; Susan Schoettle of Susan Schoettle-Gumm, PLLC of Sarasota; and impact fee specialist Carson Bise, President of Tischler Bise of Bethesda, MD.