BRADENTON - The Manatee County Commission on Tuesday approved reductions in impact fees for roads and schools in hopes of bolstering the area's weak economy.
The moves, voted on in two separate motions, cut all school impact fees for two years and cut half of all road impact fees for the same period. Both motions passed 6-1.
The reduction will mean that impact fees on a three-bedroom home will be cut from $15,576 to about $5,500 or about $10,000 less, the county said in a press release.
The lone public commenter on both items was Victor Coveduck, representing the Federation of Manatee County Community Associations.
"Our stand is that we oppose any reductions in the impact fees for the schools," he said.
With all the talk of cuts in spending and slower economic growth, the county would be better off continuing to bring in the money from the fees. "You folks need every dime you're going to be able to get," Coveduck said.
The concern, he added, is that taxes might go up to compensate for the loss of revenue.
County Commissioner Donna Hayes tried to reassure Coveduck about the tax issue. "The only reason we are suspending impact fees now for transportation and schools is because it's not needed now," she said. "The construction business was our No. 1 industry in Manatee County and it has taken an economic drop, and there's no doubt about that. So if you're not building houses, there's no impact fees, there's no impact on the road.
"If there are no homes being built, we don't need more roads and we don't need more schools because there are not more students coming in. This does not mean a tax to the public."
County Commissioner Joe McClash tried to limit the cut in school impact fees to a year.
"I don't believe that impact fees, just because you have a downturn in the economy, is something that you say you don't need the impact fees for," he said. "Impact fees are cumulative. Every student needs a building for a school."
McClash's motion was not seconded, though.
In the debate on cutting road impact fees, Kovach warned that the plan would cause a $7 million shortfall for transportation projects. "There's money going down the drain that you need," he said. "When I hear that you're going to lose money with this impact fee reduction, for both transportation and the schools, that doesn't make sense to me. It doesn't make sense to the Federation."
But County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she was willing to try cutting the fees. "I am not totally convinced that this will do what the development community tells me, but I'm willing to try for a 50 percent reduction in impact fees," she said. "Hopefully, you guys can prove me wrong."
Again, Coveduck said, the question was about taxes, and he asked commissioners if they would be willing to guarantee that taxes wouldn't go up.
As for building homes, he said, "I understand that it would create a few construction jobs, but again, like in Lakewood Ranch, how many houses are empty? So sure, we're going to build more houses?
"Building more, when there are so many empty homes here that could be a bargain, that doesn't make sense to me, it doesn't make sense to a lot of people.
"I would urge you to reconsider," he concluded.
Hayes said any taxes would have to go before the public in a referendum.
"I cannot guarantee how the constituents will vote on a tax increase, or not vote on a tax increase," she said. "There are no guarantees."
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