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Lake City Impact Fee Suspension: Mayor Witt Tells the Committee, "We're getting killed..."

Mayor Steve Witt
Mayor Steve Witt

LAKE CITY, FL – Last night, the City Utility Advisory Committee recommended continuing the Utility Impact Fee suspension at a 50% level. According to the City Management, Lake City has the lowest impact fees of the communities it surveyed. Shands at Lake Shore, the Hospital in downtown Lake City, owned by America's largest private hospital corporation, and leased by the Lake Shore Hospital Authority, saved $72,000 in impact fees last year. Mayor Witt told the Committee, "We're getting killed on the commercial side."

As the Utility Committee meeting got underway, City Manager (CM) Wendell Johnson pointed out that Lake City's impact fees were half those of other communities. Lake City's residential impact fee is $4,100 compared to $9,000 in Florida.

CM Johnson said he had received phone calls asking for a phased approach for the reinstatement of the impact fees and he again said he was not opposed to the continued suspension of the impact fees.

City Utility impact fees have been suspended for three years.

CM Johnson said, "Out of the $411,000 that has been discounted [waived] since the impact fees were suspended, $70,890 has been associated with residential development – 17 new residential startups. The remainder has been commercial."

Mayor Witt opened the floor to comments or questions from the public.

Dan Gherna, of the Columbia County Builders Association, addressed the committee.

Dan Gherna addressed the committee. He said he was from the Lake City Board of Realtors and the treasurer of the Columbia County Builders Association. "The realtors really don't have a dog in the fight, but of course the builders do," he said.

Mr. Gherna continued, "$4,000 on a $150,000 house is a deal killer."

He explained that if one built in the County, the cost for an equivalent well and septic system would be $6,000, as opposed to the $4,000 impact fee.

He told the Committee that if they suspended the fees for another year housing is not going to come back. "It's going to affect maybe 5 houses," he said.

Mayor Witt

Mayor Witt said, "We have to look at both sides of it. It's good to help the residential, but we're getting killed on the commercial side. I think a lot of the commercial businesses that are out there on 90 [U.S. 90] would come either way."

CM Johnson added, "It appears that way. They really benefited this year."

CM Johnson pointed out that Shands at Lake Shore Hospital, the hospital that is privately owned by the country's largest hospital corporation, and leased by the Lake Shore Hospital Authority, saved $72,000 in impact fees last year.

After some more discussion, CM Johnson opined that residential housing is not coming back.

Impact Fee Survey & Councilwoman Moses

City Utility Director, Steve Roberts, listens to Councilwoman Moses

Utility Director Steve Roberts explained there were 68 counties involved in the impact fee survey. He said 12 counties waived their fees. "None of those 12 are still waived as of this date."

City Councilwoman Melinda Moses asked, "Mr. Roberts are you saying that we're the only county that waives impact fees?"

Director Roberts answered, "That we know of. This was a 2012 survey."

City Manager Johnson told the Committee that he expects in 2015 the City will spend down $710,000 in the Impact Fee Trust Fund to zero.

Earlier today, Director Roberts told the Observer that he met with City Manager Johnson yesterday morning. Director Roberts said, "I told him I want 100%, but I would settle for 50%."

At its next meeting on December 15, the City Council will decide whether business developers and a minimal amount of new home owners will pay their fair share of impacting the City Utility System or whether they will be subsidized by the taxpayers.

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