Where do we grow from here? Impact fees

FORT MYERS, Fla.- Who should pay for growth?

Should you pay for new people moving to Southwest Florida?

If you think the answers to those two questions are easy, think again. Between the traffic and the construction around town, there is no doubt the area is once again growing.

The U.S. Census Bureau says by 2020, Lee County will add up to 90,000 more people. That means the county will need new and wider roads, more schools, police and jails.

“Who’s going to pay for that? Are we the taxpayers who are already here going to pay for it? Or are we going to ask the people moving here, and creating the demand for all that infrastructure, to pay their fair share?” asked Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann.

Cities and counties collect impact fees from new construction to cover some of the cost. Most places in Southwest Florida collect the most they can by law, up to the amount of the actual improvements.

In unincorporated Lee County, commissioners voted to collect 45 percent of what they are allowed to on new construction for the next three years. County staff recommended collecting 85 percent.

The process is called “growth implement funding,” where the idea is to take unexpected tax revenue and use that to fund growth.

“We want to make sure we are not raising fees on anyone,” said Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman.

“If you charge for infrastructure through property taxes, it gets spread over more people,” said Collier County Commissioner Georgia Hiller, who supports the higher impact fees in Collier County.

“If we don’t ask the new people to pay, we pay,” Mann said.

And that, is the basic debate over impact fees.