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Analyzing Two Common Arguments in Impact Fee Raise

During Tuesday’s Citrus Board of County Commission meeting, the BOCC voted 4-1 to raise impact fees a hair over $1,200 to $6,107 for a single-family new construction home. This does mean roughly a $235 increase toward road resurfacing, a category that was left at 50%, while six other categories were increased to 100% of a legally allotted fee.

Citrus County’s impact fee was already higher than Hernando, Sumter, Marion and Levy counties though they were roughly the same as Hernando before the increase.

The Thursday Concurrent column claimed that the BOCC made many bad faith arguments to justify their votes. For example, Commissioners Holly Davis and Ron Kitchen both agreed that the fees should be raised to act as a deterrent to growth, something that a consultant study required every five years reported as having no evidence was true. The amount of the fee and number of people moving to an area were not correlated.

Today’s column will focus on two philosophical concepts. The first will be if governments should enact policies, specifically those with financial penalty, to influence behavior.

The second concept will delve into the fairness argument, and that if those living here had to pay impact fees, then shouldn’t newer residents have to pay the same or more to be fair? This fairness question was also a favorite of Mr. Kitchen to raise in the meeting.

Ms. Davis’ argument was that if the fees are too low that too many people will want to move here and we will look like Ocala. Setting aside the fact that Citrus already had the highest rate of the surrounding counties, the counter argument could be made that by putting so much money into infrastructure that benefits both commercial interest and citizens that we will actually be making Citrus a more attractive place to move because of our well-funded growth fund fueled by these larger fees.

Mr. Kitchen made the point that if a $1,200 fee is going to price you out of building a new home, then you shouldn’t be building a new home in the first place.

The question of raising the standard of a government financial burden on its citizens should always be driven by necessity, never by affordability of those governed. Thinking that someone can afford an increase if they are building a new house is an entitlement mentality to that person’s private financial interest, something the reliably conservative Kitchen knows.

In past columns, we have discussed the six principles of the moral foundation theory. These are care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity, and help explain the key motivators behind human thought and action.

When the argument was made that people, particularly in Sugar Mill Woods, are in favor of the fee increase because they had to pay way into the county then it becomes easy to see the fairness foundation is the context of the argument.

What all of the commissioners, including those who ended up supporting the fee hike, acknowledged in the meeting is that residents who are building a new home will typically be living here for some time to follow meaning their spending will count toward our taxbase for years to follow.

It’s bad policy to base reasoning for decision-making in the present solely based off actions of the past. The idea of raising a government burden in the future to justify how punitive the government has been in the past is not an argument that should bear any weight to a clear thinking conservative.

Twice now we have used the term burden, but a final argument could be made that it is an investment, not a burden.

However, if you remove the context of why the fee is collected, which is growth, and you instead look at the fee for what it actually is, which is a revenue generator for county government, then the question shifts from being one of do we need to plan for growth to do we need increased revenue?

Debate will continue to swirl this budget cycle of CARES Act funds use, but regardless of the allocations, the fact remains that the county does not have a revenue problem.

We will see in the months ahead how the county decides to divide the tens of millions of dollars it has received from the federal government, but hopefully all future revenue generating tax or fee increases will not be seriously considered, as this one never should have been.


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