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Monday, 17 August 2015 11:58

New County Funding Scheme a Shell Game, Says Bonita Council

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Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker and County Manager Roger Desjarlais visited the Bonita Springs city council August 5.

The commissioner and the manager mostly pitched the virtues of the county’s new Growth Increment Funding scheme. Bonita council members were not impressed.

Growth Increment Funding, county officials say, is a way to capture money to help deal with infrastructure demanded by county growth. It takes revenue derived from taxable value increases that occur via a sale or a remodel and puts it into a fund for infrastructure.

For example a homeowner who sells a home after 30 years can be paying property taxes on a taxable value well below what the house sells for. Homestead and other exemptions disappear when the home changes hands, however, and the new owner pays taxes on something much closer to real value.

That difference between the two values, or the property tax paid on that portion, is the increment in Growth Increment Funding.

Bonita Councilman Mike Gibson pointed out one issue with the approach right away.

“Wouldn’t you have gotten that money anyway?” Gibson asked. “It’s the same money in a different spot?”
Yes, Desjarlais said, explaining that with care the county can keep the new fund from impacting the rest of the budget.

“But it’s not really new money,” Gibson said.

What it is is the creation of new no-strings-attached fund for projects. The scheme netted $7.8 million this year, and Desjarlais said it could bring closer to $20 million as the economy continues to pick up.
That money, like virtually all the $370 million or-so the county will get from county-wide property taxes this year, can be spent any way three commissioners see fit.
That’s another issue that Bonita Mayor Ben Nelson pointed out. Unlike impact fees there is no requirement that the money be spent where it’s collected, so there’s no assurance high-growth areas like Bonita Springs will get what the council sees as its share.

Kiker and Desjarlais weren’t the only ones Bonita council members heard from on so-called GIF. Members of citizen watchdog group Lee Public Voice also weighed in, and their opinion was less than flattering.
Phil Douglas, formerly environmental director for the Estero Council of Community Leaders and a LPV member said GIF is more about Kiker running for re-election than about growth paying for growth.

“Because of the cut in impact fees made by the Lee County BOCC and the continued reduced amount at 45% of what they should be, the Lee County Commissioners have presided over a $42.6 million loss in revenue as of June, 2015 due their adamant refusal to increase impact fees,” Douglas wrote in a note received before the council meeting. “I certainly hope that you are not misled by this failed attempt to fund infrastructure costs and continue to giving developers unnecessary financial support. Yes, growth increment funding will provide additional revenue and yes, it is a tax increase regardless of what is said or how it is presented, however, it will not even begin to address Lee County's infrastructure needs for roads, parks, and schools. Growth increment funding is a bad idea and hopefully the Council will continue with its current impact fee policy.”

Lee Public Voice advocates collecting impact fees at 100 percent. Member Darla Letourneau tracks how much the county has “lost” by not collecting impact fees at 100 percent.

Letourneau points out county impact fee studies peg the fees at exactly what it costs to provide the infrastructure new development requires. Not collecting the fees at 100 percent means other county revenue sources – property taxpayers – are subsidizing developers.

In the 27 months since the county cut the fees commissioners have approved development that demanded $53.9 million in new infrastructure, according to Letourneau’s most recent report. It has collected $11.3 million, which she says created a deficit of $42.6 million.

In fiscal 2014 alone, she says, the road-building deficit is $7.9 million, just over the amount the new funding scheme is expected to produce.

Commissioners claim the lower fees have spurred development and helped pull the county economy out of the ditch. Bonita is one of the southwest Florida communities that did not cut the fees, however, and has seen continued strong development.

Read 1606 times Last modified on Sunday, 31 January 2016 11:55

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