On Tuesday, the Citrus Board of County Commissioners voted to raise impact fees $1,208 on single-family new construction builds to a total of $6,017 from $4,809.
We are against raising the fee. Further, the reasoning behind why the fee was raised was flawed both as commissioners debated the topic in the meeting and in the subsequent press coverage of the vote. Two commissioners who supported it made bad faith arguments that deserve a closer look.
The Chronicle’s coverage of this has unfortunately perpetuated some of the bad faith arguments that spread more misinformation. Mike Bates is a great reporter but this is a slip up that an editor should have caught, “They [the BOCC] believed the county will grow and the money will be needed to fund roads, schools and other infrastructure,” Bates’ story reads.
Since the hot topic of the last decade and a half has been residential road resurfacing, reporting that this money will be used for roads signals to the reader of the Chronicle story that this particular decision to raise impact fees may be justified.
The problem is this simply isn’t true. Impact fees are divided into eight categories: roads, schools, libraries, fire, law enforcement, parks, emergency medical services and public buildings.
The Chronicle's error in coverage is that the road category was one of two categories that was not changed, therefore, Tuesday’s vote will not bring more funding in for road resurfacing. To imply the commissioners voted in favor of Tuesday’s motion because of roads is a bad faith argument made by the press.
Let’s shift to a bad faith argument made by the commission. The raising of the impact fee should not be about growth as framed by the commission and assistant county administrator. It’s about revenue.
At its core, a decision for a government to raise fees on the individuals who give consent to be governed is about raising revenue to provide services. In the case of impact fees, the revenue is used to plan for growth, however, growth is an ancillary reason with the foundation of the argument resting on revenue.
If the debate had been held in the context of revenue rather than the context of growth, then it becomes clear that this raise was unnecessary. County revenue is at an all-time high due to cash injections from the CARES Act federal funding.
How individuals think this money should be spent will continue to be the subject of vigorous debate, but the fact remains that the county does not have a revenue problem right now that needs to be addressed through increasing revenue sources.
The decision to raise the fees rested on a pre-pandemic conducted study that said additional revenue was needed to offset growth. This may have been true at the time, although the credibility of the entire study was questioned after it was found they were using an outdated formula, but regardless the revenue projections have changed significantly in the wake of covid rendering the study useless if looked at in the context solely of revenue.
Several community leaders from the real estate and building industries spoke at the meeting to make this argument.
The commission kept the argument in the context of growth, however, and this became particularly clear when Commissioners Holly Davis and Ron Kitchen made their arguments that the fees can be used to offset growth costs but are equally as useful as a way to act as a growth deterrent.
High fees, they speculated, meant fewer people. This argument goes counter to what the numbers of the study found, that there is no correlation between fee level and growth, but it was one repeated several times.
Thus, Kitchen who argued against “pulling numbers out of the air” was stating his case with numbers that not only came from thin air but had concrete numbers to contradict the claims.
Kitchen’s worst bad faith argument, which he repeated numerous times, was that if an individual can’t afford a $1,200 increase then that person shouldn’t be building a house.
This is a particularly condescending, vindictive way to look at personal responsibility that goes against conservative beliefs on which Kitchen is usually strong, so to turn it around we’ll close with if a commissioner can’t run a $309 million budget without a couple of $1,200 increases, then they shouldn’t be making decisions for a county.