I’ve been asking for months and months … and months, how long the county could possibly manage to continue making excuses as to why it is only collecting roughly 40 percent of what its current study says that impact fees should be. On Tuesday, we got an answer to that question.
To be fair, I’m not the only one who has been asking. At-large Republican Commissioner George Kruse has been ringing the same bell, and he gets to do it from the dais where staff and his fellow commissioners have no choice but to hear, even if they don’t listen. For Tuesday’s BOCC meeting, Kruse had added the topic to the agenda as a commissioner item.
First, a bit of backstory. The state requires counties to update their impact fee studies every five years. Manatee County is already three years behind on its update. The study was completed and brought to the board in December 2020 when Cheri Coryea was still county administrator. Because of impact fee legislation passed in the 2021 state legislative session, the consulting firm that had been engaged to do the study informed county officials that it would have to be modified and it was.
In the meantime, the board fired Coryea, and ultimately replaced her with Scott Hopes. During the nearly two years that Hopes, who was very cozy with developers, served as administrator, it was never brought before the board. The county later cited concerns with the age of the data and the study was updated in April of this year, after Hopes had been let go, to reflect current market conditions. The board voted in April to move the impact fee study forward for a hearing and a vote. It was placed on the hearing list for August. It was then delayed without explanation multiple times between August and November before inexplicably disappearing from the hearing calendar altogether.
Developers hate impact fees because, no matter what they and their bought-and-paid-for shills tell you, they eat into their bottom line, even though they are necessary to provide the additional infrastructure (roads, schools, public safety, libraries, parks, etc.) necessitated by growth. Developers like Pat Neal and Carlos Beruff have argued that it would be more equitable to make existing residents share in the cost of supporting all of the new development—as if the decline in our quality of life brought on by rampant, unsustainable development practices is not already an unbearable cost.
At Tuesday’s meeting, everyone on the staff and the dais who spoke and was not named George Kruse miraculously agreed in perfect unison that they had long been troubled by the “methodology” of the existing study and would be much more comfortable with simply raising the existing impact fees, which are currently collected at only 90 percent of what the previous study recommended, to 100 percent. Do the math. It’s a 10 percent increase on something that is already being levied at a 60 percent discount. Mark my words, however, if the board can delay the matter beyond next year's elections, which will not be difficult, they'll be out there campaigning that they raised impact fees.
Developer-approved County Administrator Charlie Bishop did his little song and dance with help from Courtney De Pol and Nicole Knapp, explaining that they also shared the same “methodology” concerns as the two developers who actually run the county. As Kruse noted, the most likely outcome is the county hiring the same stooge consultant that it wasted taxpayer money on in the gutting of our wetland protections, who will again parrot the same talking points expressed by the developers so that the other six muppets on the dais can claim that they are again “listening to the experts” when they rubber-stamp their boss’s orders.
I've embedded video of that portion of the meeting below, and would definitely recommend that you give it a watch.
Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.