Can we just be nice to each other? I think that’s the wrong question. Should we all be nice to each other might be better. And while we’re being particular about word choice, nice isn’t the right term. What I’m looking for isn’t nice, but rather kind. A nice person doesn’t say anything when you have something stuck in your teeth. A kind person lets you know but not in a malicious way. A nice person tells you that you don’t look fat in that shirt or that you’re totally pulling off those sunglasses. A kind person tells you the truth, but more importantly, they know how to tell you the truth. Today is going to be about being kind, but I can assure you, you won’t find any niceties here.
This is Bobby Winsler - welcome to my weekly podcast covering the conversation in Citrus County. Tone is important. Whether it is in print, presented in a visual graphic or the spoken word like this show, how we say something is just as important as what we are saying. Two weeks ago, I mocked a proposal from Commissioner Jeff Kinnard to raise the transportation impact fee from its current 50% rate to the maximum allowable the county can collect. Today I’m going to revisit that issue using a kinder tone and my guest, Citrus County Building Alliance president Melissa Sutherland, will help me understand the issue further. But before we get to that, let’s start with this.
I have been feeling guilty for over a week now. I went for snark when I should have aspired to smarts. I made a graphic using a Spongebob meme that I titled “Commission, Newspaper propose raising fees to stimulate business growth” and in the caption I wrote sarcastically, “what could go wrong?” But this is disingenuous because I knew what Commissioner Kinnard was getting at with the proposal of raising the impact fee, but I disregarded that in order to take a shot at it. Ideas that go against the grain, such as raising fees to stimulate business growth, deserve the best recognition because we want to encourage outside-the-box thinking and the courage that it takes to propose ideas like this should be applauded rather than mocked, no matter how much you might disagree with it.
But mocked I did anyway. Here’s my shot at redemption. Premium subscribers to the Concurrent who read Sunday’s column learned about a concept in rhetoric academia called the principle of charity, which I just love. I’m not going to explain it here, pay the quarter and read the column if you’re interested in how it applies, but this podcast is me being kind as described earlier.
The first impact fee raise in March of last year was one of the first big topics that the Concurrent covered, having just launched the month prior. I was ardently against it from the beginning on principle, and I haven’t been impressed with what I’ve seen in practice since. Even then-commissioner, now Chairman Ron Kitchen, usually regarded as the most conservative member of the board, was in favor of raising the impact fees and it passed 4-1 with only Commissioner, then-Chairman Scott Carnahan against.
Chairman Kitchen’s reasoning was that many of the residents in his district, which is largely comprised of Sugarmill Woods, had to pay higher impact fees so everyone else entering the county should as well. I understand the appeal to fairness but think that a government shouldn’t be collecting money unless it is to fill a need. So what need does an impact fee fill?
Impact fees are charged to new residential and commercial construction with the idea that they will offset the future cost of growth this new structure and the people that utilize it will levy on the community. This becomes easier to understand when it’s broken down into the eight categories that the fee goes to: transportation, schools, libraries, fire, law enforcement, parks, emergency medical services and public buildings. You can start to see where the fees pay for growth when looking at these categories.
What the commission did in March was they voted to raise some of these fees, which had been charging 50% of what they are legally allowed to collect, up to 100% of what they are allowed to collect. Overall, the fee raised by just over $1,200 on a standard single-family home, setting the fee at $6,017, up from $4,809.
A $1,200 increase when building a home is likely not going to be cost prohibitive when considering a multi-hundred thousand dollar project. However, there does come a tipping point when it will be, and also, how effectively are the fees being spent to justify their need to collect more?
The public building impact fee, one of the eight categories, had sat unused long enough to accrue several hundreds of thousands of dollars, which the commission voted unanimously to use toward offsetting the borrowing costs of the new animal shelter. That’s at least more useful than what has been going on with the parks.
The park impact fee in District 3 has accrued over $100,000 just for that district, which Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach represents and is roughly the neighborhoods of Citrus Springs and Beverly Hills. Despite her best efforts to hear from the community and advocate on the board, no significant renovations have been done to the Central Ridge park despite community outcry and the money being there.
District 1 impact fees, Dr. Kinnard’s district that is much of the northwest coast of the county including Crystal River and Ozello, were going to be used in their entirety to purchase Pirates Cove, which is far more about conservation of land than it is about promoting or preparing for growth.
The point is that when these fees collect money, there are numerous instances with this current board where the money is unspent or its proposed usage is a stretch at best for what their intent is meant to be.
To further understand impact fees, I sat down with Melissa Sutherland, who represents the Citrus County Building Alliance, whose members have an obvious stake in impact fees being raised as they are only charged to new construction. I learned a lot from her, and I think you will to.
[INTERVIEW NOT TRANSCRIBED]
Let’s Start With This is a Concurrent Media Production. The Citrus County Concurrent is a DBA of Winsler Consulting and Advocacy, LLC. If you would like to advertise on this podcast, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find Let’s Start With This weekly at noon Tuesdays on the Concurrent website and mobile app. Thanks for listening.