Impact fees and booting 'the Boot' is two topics from Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta, this week's guest on Comcast's "One on One with Jeff Lytle.'' Lytle is editorial page/Perspective section editor of the Daily News.
Video and transcript highlights of that and past interviews are available at naplesnews.com/oneonone. The 30-minute program with Coletta will be shown in its entirety Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009, at noon on Comcast CN 14.
The transcript follows:
Lytle: Let me get right to it. In today’s (Wednesday’s) paper, candidate for Collier County Commission in District 2, Joe Foster, Republican — you know him — has an essay that in effect, well, I can’t tell if it’s a bombshell or an airball.
He comes out and says that the county commissioners have been on such a spending spree for the past years, fueled by impact fees, that now the county is in debt and struggling to pay the bills to maintain all those things, and the debt is hundreds of millions of dollars because of the spending policies driven by impact fees. (Check the link at the bottom of the story to read Foster's guest commentary.)
Question to you is, does he have it right?
Coletta: I’d say he’s about 90 percent right. The truth of the matter is, there are people who have been opposed to impact fees since day one, when they started off. And the reason being is that it is a form of taxation that hits a select clientele, and that’s the people who are just coming here, and it impacts the building industry.
But meanwhile, a majority of our residents are paying an ad valorem tax, and they just as soon have someone else pay those taxes to impact fees.
The truth of the matter is that when all these things were projected out, as far as the roads go, which I’m sure the population enjoys around here, and the parks — you take that curve where the population is now and has been for the last five years, and you start to project it out. And you have to use that premise to go forward, because you can’t turn around the ship on a nickel.
Well, I’d love to know who in the devil ever had an idea that this whole economic situation was going to turn around the way it did overnight? No one predicted it. No one knew it was going to happen. And yes, we are saddled with debt that is quite extensive.
However, with that said, impact fees paid for the vast majority of everything that was put into place to get us where we need to be. We have one of the lowest ad valorem taxes within the state of Florida.
We are suffering now, just like everyone else, but we are covering the bills.
Lytle: When you said that Foster has it right, what I just heard you say is that Foster had it wrong because if we hadn’t had the impact fees, where would the money have come from to get us this far?
Coletta: That’s absolutely correct. If we didn’t have the money through impact fees, we never would have had the infrastructure put in that we got in.
Yes, we still owe a debt on it, but the vast majority of it has been paid for.
Lytle: So, is Mr. Foster’s essay an indictment, or is it just scoring political points?
And the record also shows that there is no incumbent in that race anymore to run against. This is the kind of thing that you would expect to see a challenger air out against an incumbent, in this case Frank Halas. As we know Frank Halas is no longer running. He will not seek re-election. So Mr. Foster is talking to whom?
Coletta: Mr. Foster is talking to the general public. But he also is very strongly tied into the building industry, which I have no problems with. I have strong allegiance to the building industry also ...
So he is playing that card. The building industry needs a scapegoat. In this case it’s impact fees. Impact fees got us to where we are today, is what they’re saying, as far as the economy goes, which is totally false. At the peak of the economy, the impact fees were at their highest, and they were selling houses right and left.
So there isn’t a direct correlation to it. But you have to have something to blame out there for what’s taking place.
Lytle: Does Mr. Foster raise a valid campaign issue as you move forward to get out all the sides of this?
Coletta: Yes, he does, especially to the clientele he’s trying to reach, and that’s the people who are within the development industry.
Lytle: Talking about the business community, let me ask you about the Economic Development Council. Commissioners were questioning whether the annual $400,000 investment really makes such good sense anymore.
Was that really about expecting to see results or was there a little political payback there in that message?
Coletta: I’m not too sure of the political paybacks statement.
Lytle: The EDC from time to time does some things that go against the policy grain of what the commissioners, such as on infrastructure and other things that are diametrically opposed to some of the things that some of the commissioners want to do.
Coletta: Well let’s be correct on it. It’s not the EDC that’s opposed to what the county commission is doing. It’s the members of the EDC. There are two separate entities there. And that’s where the issue came up, is that we had commissioners that attended EDC events — and they should attend them all — and they heard the different members state very loudly and forcibly on the floor about different things that county government is involved in, going back to impact fees mainly.
And so the correlation was that if these members are speaking against it, it must be the EDC. But it’s not. The EDC has remained above this.
Lytle: So commissioners questioned the investment in the EDC and the results they’re seeing, that is where that issue starts and stops.
Coletta: That’s right.
You have to remember the EDC does a wonderful job with the money it has to work with. It does have what you might consider failures because everything they go out and try to get, they don’t capture.
The truth of the matter is that the business they’re in, you don’t have a hundred percent success rate. If you can one out of every 10, that’s a tremendous addition that we never have here in Collier County. And it’s also a tremendous lifeline to our business community.
Lytle: And it’s a very competitive market out there, because communities across the entire country are all going after the same sorts of industries.
So, to sum this up, your take on the EDC is one that is largely supportive.
Coletta: That’s correct.
Lytle: Especially in your district, which includes Golden Gate Estates and Immokalee.
Coletta: Very much so, and that’s where just about all economic development is going to take place in the future.
Lytle: Talking about that, there were legal ads in the newspaper about a week ago now for a 5 million-square-foot industrial building at the Immokalee airport. Five million square feet?
Coletta: That’s correct.
Lytle: Who’s going to pay for that?
Coletta: When you come back to it, indirectly it’s going to be the taxpayers of the country, because a lot of that money is going to come down from the Federal Aviation Administration. Usually it’s a 90-10 percent split.
But it give us a tremendous boost for Immokalee and that we’ll have some facilities ready.
We’ve had a number of different businesses that have been interested moving into the Immokalee area, the problem being is that there wasn’t a building that was adequate to meet their needs, and the period of time it would take from a conception of the idea to a completion of the building and moving in, it would have been a year or a year and a half. And that’s not doable for a lot of companies.
So this will get them in there and allow them go forward.
Lytle: Is the fact that the county is losing its Airport Authority director, is that going to complicate anything?
Coletta: It’s a little bump along the road. Theresa Cook did a good job. And I’m sure that when we go through the process, we’ll find someone who’ll be able to take that place.
Lytle: Talk about taking the place, some people in the private sector said they can take the place in the public sector in terms of trying to get the Chicago Cubs here for spring training.
You just smiled.
They say alternately that they can get the job done without coming to the county for taxes and that makes us think of the tourist tax. What’s your take on all this?
Coletta: Well, if it’s purely a private venture, and they’re not going to come to the county for financial support, I’ll back them 100 percent.
Where I draw the line is using the public’s funds to try to make this happen. It’s an extremely competitive business out there. And I’ll be honest with you, I get the feeling that they may be trying to drive up the price for the value and they’ll still stay in Arizona in the end. But they’ll use us.
Lytle: They, meaning the Cubs.
Coletta: The Cubs. This has happened many times before. Whenever they come close to the end of a contract — these different baseball teams — they always go out shopping to see if they can get a better price to drive up the price for where they presently are.
Lytle: Oh, you’re just being cynical.
Coletta: I know I am. I can’t help it. It’s just my nature. I’m in government. (Laughter)
Lytle: Let me ask you, would you be willing to play along if the team needed some extra roads or infrastructure, that kind of thing to support the crowds that you might expect to come to see the Cubs? Is that in the cards?
Coletta: At this point in time, no. There’s no money out there for new roads. In fact the commission yesterday was talking about addressing the limited amount of roads that are going to be built over the next five years. So I don’t see where that money would be there even to be able to do that.
Lytle: How about some zoning incentives? Would you add a little extra density here and there?
Coletta: I would have no problem doing that. That would be a doable thing, as long as it doesn’t cost the taxpayers.
Lytle: We’re covering a lot of ground here.
One of the items that may be coming on the commission agenda that really takes place on private property but it affects a lot of your constituents, and that’s the idea of putting mechanical and metal boots on tires of cars that are allegedly illegally parked within private, usually gated subdivisions.
There is a measure coming to you that would reduce the maximum level that these booting companies could charge.
Without having the documents in front of me, I think they can charge up to $120 now, and the proposal would cut that in half.
Coletta: It’s $200 right now. At least that’s what they’re charging. I don’t know if it’s legal or not.
Generally, what’s driving this is — what do you want to call it? — greed and troubled economic times.
The homeowners associations of these different communities is having a very rough time in making ends meet because of the fact that people aren’t paying their dues or they just have left and there’s empty property all over the place. So they’re scrambling for dollars.
Lytle: But the associations will tell you they don’t get any of the boot money. The boot money goes to the security company.
Coletta: My understanding was that they were splitting it. That may be a misunderstanding on my part.
But we can still allow for reasonable enforcement, but the thing is you do it with a $25 fine. And that $25 fine would be so minimal that they’re going to think twice before they ever put a boot on a car, whether it’s going to work or not.
I can understand some of the problems that probably existed in the past and may still be today. And the fact that you have very limited parking places in a lot of these communities — usually enough room for two cars per home — one in the garage, and if you’re a lot like other people, you don’t have storage. You got everything stored in the garage.
So you’re going to have one car in the driveway and another one in some other location in the community. And if everyone does that, and if other people come to visit, after a while it raises all sorts of issues.
Lytle: Is this an issue you’re hearing a lot about from the constituents?
Coletta: Yes and no. It seems to be more in the other four commission districts than in my own. I haven’t had a complaint in my district yet.
Lytle: Because of few people have come with very serious, passionate complaints to the newspaper. So I was just wondering what it’s like in your world.
Coletta: In fact I sent you some of those complaints.
Lytle: After I raised the initial ones, those backups were much appreciated. It helped me understand the larger issues.
So whenever this comes to the commission, you’re going to be in favor of reducing it.
Coletta: Oh, reducing it down to $25 and then it won’t be a profit-motive rebuilt into it. It will be for enforcement.
Lytle: Talking about greed and enforcement, which leads us to red-light cameras. That was just too easy.
Should we put any more cameras out there?
Coletta: The whole thing is, we have never limited where the cameras could go. There’s any number of locations they could end up.
The truth of the matter is the people should be obeying the law regardless of red-light cameras there or not. And there’s been compliance. I don’t know how it is now with the tourist season starting.
But from it was in the beginning to just about last month, there was a drop off of two-thirds of the violations. So people are starting to comply with the law that’s in place.
Lytle: Do you think we should have cameras at the corner of Airport-Pulling Road and U.S. 41 by the courthouse? Would that be fair?
Coletta: Well, that’s where I drive, Jeff. I don’t know about that.
Of course they would be fair.
The only thing is U.S. 41 is a state highway. After the state legislation session, we may be able to put them there too. We have Sen. Mike Bennett is very supportive of these red-light cameras and they’re going to try to remove some of the problem areas in the Florida statutes this coming legislative session, so that this won’t have the problems that it does now as far as some of these lawsuits out there.
Lytle: And you’d be in favor of that.
Coletta: Well of course I would. You want to always makes sure what you’re going is completely and above the law.
Lytle: Before we go to a break, let me ask you about Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock. It looks like you have a tenuous peace in place right now.
How optimistic are you about that continuing, and is the issue of him being able to do independent audits of taxpayer money once it’s been spent — on his own call, not having to get permission from you — are you OK with that?
Coletta: That issue is going to be settled very shortly. It’s in front of the State Supreme Court, Dwight Brock and county government is working together to get this constitutional issue resolve.
Lytle: But they’re not working together.
Coletta: Yes they are.
Lytle: No, no. They’re not on the same side.
Coletta: Well, no, that’s true. You never would be. But they’re not going in there as adversaries. They’re going in there so much as to be able to get resolution to this problem.
Believe me, Dwight Brock has been a pleasure work with for the last couple of months. In fact I had dinner with him a couple of Sundays ago. I join him for lunch. We meet all the time. I use his IT department to get new ideas how to make our government work better.
He’s a wonderful person. We had some serious misunderstandings in the past. That’s behind us. I see nothing but a much more friendly future.
Lytle: So you believe that once this audit issue, which I think is extremely important.
Coletta: Oh, it is; it is.
Lytle: So once that’s settled, then we move on either way.
Coletta: Oh absolutely. It’ll be resolved once and all, and whatever will be in place will be the point of law that nobody will be able to deny.