Home Builders File Lawsuit Challenging Santa Rosa County’s School Impact Fee

Posted on April 17, 2020 by Staff reports

The Home Builders Association of West Florida (HBA) has filed a lawsuit in the First Judicial Circuit Court against the Board of County Commissioners and the School Board of Santa Rosa County, challenging a $5,000 school impact fee on each new home permitted in the county starting May 4, 2020. The fee would also be levied on mobile homes ($4,000) and multi-family dwellings ($2,750).

“As builders, we strongly support appropriate funding for education,” said HBA President Blaine Flynn of Flynn Built, Inc. “But we believe Santa Rosa County’s school impact fee has some significant legal flaws and poses a serious threat to affordable housing and economic vitality in our county.”

Flynn also expressed concern that with the COVID-19 pandemic, total national housing starts decreased 22.3 percent in March and will certainly have a negative impact locally. “We were hopeful the School Board would delay the starting date of the impact fee of May 4th to show community good will for the countless businesses and employees who are being devastated by the shutdown. Unfortunately, they chose not to help at its last meeting. After publicly expressing our concerns for months, we now have to resort to formal legal action to have our voices heard,” said Flynn.

Flynn stressed the home builders association believes a strong public education system is important to the health of communities and a key factor in where people choose to live. “We care about education, teachers, and students,” said Flynn. “But we’re looking for more accountability on how the school board is spending a record $375 million of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money in this fiscal year, and we’re concerned that these impact fees will place a severe burden on working-class people like teachers, police officers and firefighters.” Flynn noted that the impact fees would increase new home price, which in turn will lead to high existing home prices and rents.

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice and attorney Kenneth B. Bell of the Gunster Law Firm will head the legal team filing the lawsuit on behalf of the builders association and 11 additional plaintiffs that develop residential communities and build homes and apartments in Santa Rosa County. “To prevent discriminatory and unfair taxation, Florida Statutes impose high standards for school boards and counties when imposing impact fees.  Unfortunately, Santa Rosa County’s School Board, and the ordinance passed, fail to meet those standards,” said Bell, who will be joined in the legal challenge by attorney Stephen R. Moorhead of the Moorhead Real Estate Law Group.

Bell said the lawsuit challenges the way an outside, School Board consultant calculated the impact fee using “incomplete or inaccurate data and faulty assumptions.” Bell said the calculation did not, as specified in Florida Statutes, use the most recent and localized data, reflect the School Board’s recent land acquisitions, or credit new residential development fees to school facilities. He added that the ordinance does not meet state-mandated “rational nexus and proportionately” requirements which restrict the use of new impact fees to the capital facilities needed to address the impact of a new development.