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Manatee County moves to cut transportation impact fees 50 percent


Manatee County took action to join the City of Bradenton and the School Board in trying to jump-start the local economy by cutting impact fees.

To scattered applause Tuesday, the County Commission directed staff to draw up an ordinance reducing transportation impact fees by 50 percent for two years. The action could reduce revenues by $9 million.

The proposal, sought by the local construction industry, will require a study and a 90-day public notice before taking effect, according to the county attorney. The vote was unanimous. Commissioner Joe McClash, a vocal opponent of dropping impact fees, was absent.

If the ordinance goes into effect, the county would be hit with a $7.4 million shortfall in its capital improvement projects, and some road projects would be delayed, said County Administrator Ed Hunzeker. Among them: right of way purchase for Moccasin Wallow Road at Interstate 75/U.S. 41; design, land acquisition and construction of 44th Avenue East from 30th to 45th streets; and advance land acquisition countywide.

The proposed cut would come just at the time costs in construction and land are dropping, Hunzeker said.

In addition, the action could hamper development on certain roads, he said. If a development opportunity arose on a so-called "failed" road, the county's rules could prohibit it because the road was not being improved.

In a prepared analysis for the board, Hunzeker recommended reducing fees 25 percent for one year, for a shortfall of $2.9 million for road projects.

But with a lackluster economy weighing heavy, commissioners had deeper cuts in mind.

"Twenty-five percent is not enough," said Commissioner Larry Bustle. "We need to give a kick-start to the building industry."

"I'm all over the county and I'm flying on these roads," said Commissioner Carol Whitmore. "Do we really need four- and six-lane roads?"

"If we don't need the roads, we don't need the fees," said Commissioner Donna Hayes.

Some members of the public spoke against the fee cut. "When you reduce impact fees, you reduce the value of every house in the neighborhood," said county resident Marilin Stasica.

Ernest "Sandy" Marshall, representing the Federation of Manatee County Community Associations, called cutting impact fees "fiscally irresponsible. Experts are against it. You won't stimulate the economy. You'll come back to us in taxes."

Support for trimming fees came from Hugh McGuire, with Manatee County Economic Stimulus Working Group, an association of developers, He introduced a representative of Fishkind & Associates, Florida economic consultants, who gave a presentation indicating that Manatee County's "functional unemployment rate" was as high as 30 percent for some segments of the population. It concluded that an impact fee reduction would stimulate construction activity but would not have an effect unless it lasted two years.

Manatee County School Board has asked the county to suspend its impact fees for one year. The City of Bradenton has suspended impact fees for a year.


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