Impact fees eliminated

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By Jennifer Jensen

Impact fees will no longer be charged in Wakulla County.
This decision was made by the Wakulla County Commission on Monday, Feb. 28. The vote was four to one, with only Commissioner Lynn Artz voting against eliminating all impact fees.
Originally, Commissioner Alan Brock had proposed the elimination of road impact fees, which cost the most of the seven impact fees -- which are parks and recreational facilities, emergency medical system, fire rescue system, correctional facilities, roads, libraries and law enforcement facilities.
"It adds up very quickly for commercial property," Brock said. "It's a hardship."
His hope was the elimination would encourage more commercial businesses to move to the county instead of opening in Tallahassee.
Wakulla County businesses are already at a disadvantage to those in Tallahassee, because they lose Tallahassee customers and the impact fees are another reason to not open in Wakulla County, Brock said.
While Brock was originally in favor of eliminating only the road impact fee, some of the other commissioners leaned toward eliminating all impact fees.
One of these commissioners was Randy Merritt, who has stated from the beginning that he doesn't believe the county's impact fee study is fair.
"My issue is not impact fees, it's how we arrived there," Merritt said.
He added that he wanted to zero out all impact fees and start over.
"I'd like to look at the whole thing," Merritt said.
Also on Merritt's side were commissioners Jerry Moore and Mike Stewart.
Moore said the amount of money a large commercial business would have to pay is "reason enough not to come to that place."
Stewart said, "I want to remove every obstacle there is for commercial growth. I want to see commercial growth in this county, whatever it takes to get them here."
He added that the county currently has $750,000 collected from impact fees that they have yet to spend.
Artz said after doing lots of research on the topic, she believed that eliminating impact fees would have the opposite effect from what the other commissioners are hoping to accomplish.
She added that she relies on research and compared the commissioners to doctors, stating that they were looking for a cure for the county's ailment.
And just like any good doctor, she has turned to research.
"What I've learned is that impact fees are a win, win, win, for everybody," Artz said.
She added that it helps build infrastructure in a timely way and increases housing demand.
"It creates a community where people want to live," Artz said.
The commission chambers was filled with residents wishing to speak on this issue.
Those who spoke were split, with half wanting to eliminate the fees and the other half wanting to keep them in place.
Those in favor of eliminating the impact fees argued that growth pays for itself in the form of other taxes.
Chamber of Commerce President John Shuff said the county doesn't need to compare itself to Leon County, but most compare itself to other rural counties like Jefferson and Gadsden.
"And they charge no impact fees," Shuff said.
Mark Hudson said impact fees are an impediment to businesses.
They "encourage any builder not to build," he said.
Bob Danzey said if the government would allow businesses to make a profit then they can pay back the government, but impact fees hinder this success.
"Let us make a profit," Danzey said.
He added that the commission should wipe all the impact fees off and then bring back a few they would like to add back on.
Those in favor of impact fees didn't feel growth paid for itself.
Former Commissioner Howard Kessler said, "If growth pays for itself you wouldn't have traffic congestion on 319."
He added that the county spent $3 million from impact fees and wondered who would pay that if impact fees were eliminated, either new or present residents and businesses.
Michael Keys told the commission, "Your responsibility first and foremost, is to represent the interests of all current Wakulla County residents, not future residents, imaginary businesses or special interests."
Eleanor Elfner asked the commission to not eliminate this source of income for the county.
"Our people are stretched to the limit," Elfner said.
Hugh Taylor said regardless of large fees, "a business will build when the business is there."
Although several citizens spoke in favor of keeping the impact fees, in the end, Artz sat alone on the commission.
Merritt, however, did agree to evaluate the impact fee study and Brock said he would bring back the option of adding some of the other impact fees back on, such as parks and recreation and the library.
Stewart agreed the best option was to nullify all impact fees and then reassess the ones that are needed.
"I don't want to see the library suffer," Stewart said.