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Impact fees going the way of the dodo bird.
Only Board Member Maxwell speaks up for the district.

Columbia County, FL (posted March 5, 2009)

by Stew Lilker

Ronald Williams
The debate ended when veteran Commissioner Ronald Williams told the Boards, "As of Thursday night we’re going to make sure we don’t take any more money in.

SB Member -- Charles Maxwell:
We rode that bubble like everybody else, but we borrowed twenty-seven million dollars based on that bubble ... What data do we have to support the thesis that this is what’s causing construction to diminish in this county?









On February 1, 2008, after dragging its feet for seven years, the Columbia County Commission finally passed an impact fee ordinance. Impact fees are special taxes on new construction designed to offset the cost of development on government services. Finally, those impacting the school district and other governmental services were going to pay their fair share.

On January 26, 2009, newly elected Superintendent of Schools, Mike Millikin spoke before the Columbia County Legislative delegation. He reported that the school district had lost over seven million dollars in funding, which was a 10½ % reduction in school revenues.

On Tuesday night, March 3, 2009, with the blood still flowing in the streets and the school district on its knees, the good old boys of the Columbia County Commission, buoyed by four of the five members of the School Board, decided to eliminate school impact fees. Only School Board member Charles Maxwell spoke up for the district, its students and the working families of Columbia County, opposing the impact fee moratorium. The official moratorium vote is tonight.

Now -- In Their Own Words -- You are there.

(Chairman Bailey opened the meeting and explained)

Chairman Bailey:     “We felt it was only right that we had a discussion with the school board.”

Commissioner Stephen BailerChairman Bailey then told the gathering of school officials and contractors that the County Manager, Dale Williams, felt a majority of folks were supporting the moratorium on impact fees.

Before he opened for floor for discussion Chairman Bailey said that it seems that the state is considering placing a moratorium on impact fees.

(District I Commissioner Ronald Williams took the floor)

Commissioner Williams:              We talked about impact fees as far back as eight years ago. We started at the process of implementing impact fee during the time that business was booming, in a sense, not only when business was booming, but the fluctuation of people moving to Columbia County was booming also...

 People that would cause an impact on local Commissioner Williamsgovernment had to provide. There should be a shared cost in that. It’s a great tool to help with the things that we need to make Columbia County better, but I also think that it’s time for us as a body to look at where we are.

 If we do on Thursday night’s meeting implement a moratorium then I would like to hold all the builders to our word that, that will go away, the portion that the board levy. And that will be not a discussion item with a plan that they are building a house for.

 ... I have a problem with spec houses... I don’t know whether a person is financially able to go out and build a bunch of spec houses to take advantage of a three thousand dollar discount.

 ... If the legislature pass a three year then it not board what we do anyway. We can supersede a legislation this evening, but we can’t under succeed a legislative agenda. That’s where I stand on it.

(District II Commissioner, Dewey Weaver, was up next)

Commissioner Weaver: Commissioner Dewey Weaver    Construction is a large portion of the jobs that we have in the community...

 Do I believe that doing away with the impact fees, we’re going to see a boom in the building over night? No, I don’t. I don’t believe that at all. Will it help? Absolutely.... We should do what we can do to help our community regain its footing in this economic market.

(Newly elected District III Commissioner, Jody DuPree, gave his perspective.)

Commissioner DuPree:      I’m in the same business as most of the Commissioner DuPreepeople here. I can see the effects of the impact fee probably more than most ... (Com. DuPree opined that impact fees make affordable housing, unaffordable). You cannot build a house. 50% of the problem is consumer confidence. Where it’s impacting this community the worst is in the affordable housing market, which is where we have a market, but we can’t build it.

(It was the School Boards turn. School Board President Glen Hunter led off.)

Glen HunterPresident Glen Hunter:     We got into the impact fees, along with you, approximately a year ago, because of the state funding requiring that school districts were having to fund a little bit more ... I haven’t seen anyone that’s been happy, that’s felt very good at all about the construction in Columbia County.

SB Member -- Steve Nelson:  Steve Nelson      We need to do whatever we can do to help stimulate growth and anything else we can do in our county. Impact fees are a very small portion of what we bring in. If we had these years ago, we wouldn’t be in the shape we are. Impact fees, as a concept, I support. As far as what we need to do right now to help get growth in our county, I support Mr. Williams. If we do away with them now, we need to look at bringing them back when it’s appropriate.

Charles MaxwellSB Member -- Charles Maxwell:    We rode that bubble like everybody else, but we borrowed twenty-seven million dollars based on that bubble and we’re paying that off and this money here is going to help in that regard... What data do we have to support the thesis that this is what’s causing construction to diminish in this county?

Commissioner Williams:     I really don’t think we need data to back up what we’re saying. Do I think that waiving the impact fee, that Columbia County going to boom? No, I do not, but I do believe that there are situations where a person might take that opportunity to build a house by saving that three thousand dollars ... Statistics, I doubt they would even add up, it’s more of a perception that verify that fact.

Mr. Nelson:   Explained that he thought, “The impact fees were not what brought the number of permit applications down.”

Linard JohnsonSB Member – Linard Johnson:      (Mr. Johnson claimed that the three thousand dollar impact fee is keeping folks from qualifying for loans). We’re going to have to do something as leaders in this community so that people do have the opportunity to purchase a home ... We all are going to have to do something to contribute to getting the housing industry back on its feet.

Commissioner Williams:     I personally would like to roll this back to January 1. To me that’s a fair cutoff... If you done it in 2008, you have to eat it.

(Outside Attorney from NGN)

Attorney Carrie:      [This] Needs to be done by ordinance. You need a ten day notice.

Mr. Maxwell:           I would like to insert one thing. This is the best named piece of ordinance I’ve ever heard, it’s called impact. I just want both boards to realize that it does in fact impact on the school system ... Is there any lee way for reducing or changing, rather than simply eliminating, because the impact itself is still there. And that’s what we call an impact fee.

Commissioner Williams:     (Referring to the school impact fee) It’s up to you guys to say to what extent you are going to eliminate all or part, and not the boards.

Mr. Maxwell: I understood it was in fact the total business of the county commission.

Commissioner Weaver:      We will make the final decision. We are the only ones with the authority to implement it or put a moratorium on it ... We will readdress it in January, 2010.

Mr. Johnson:          I think that if we are going to consider the moratorium, it is considered from a date as of today or later. Going back and trying to take out funding that is probably budgeted would be cumbersome. I would recommend that you don’t make it retroactive.

Commissioner Williams:     As of Thursday night we’re going to make sure we don’t take any more money in.