North Naples fire district to suspend impact fees to encourage business

Fire commissioners hope their decision to waive impact fees in the North Naples fire district will encourage businesses to move to the area this year.

Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to eliminate the fees for 12 months, a decision that will be finalized during a budget hearing next week.

"People are nervous, they're not quite certain what the economy will do," Commissioner Chris Lombardo said. "We want to show people we have the confidence that North Naples will be just fine. We're right there with you. We're not going to stand in your way."

All new commercial and residential builds in the district must pay an impact fee based on their square footage, Assistant Chief Becky Bronsdon said. The money is collected by the county and can be spent to improve fire infrastructure in growing areas of the district. Commercial builds are charged 99 cents per square foot and residential builds are charged 28 cents per square foot.

At the peak of the district's commercial and residential expansion from 2007 to 2008, the district collected $2 million in fees, Bronsdon said.

But for the past two years, the North Naples district has only charged 50 percent of the regular fee rate to encourage growth, collecting about $350,000 each year.

Lombardo said the reduced rate was effective in bringing businesses to the district the past two years. Commissioner Jim Burke said he's heard positive feedback on the move from the county's chamber of commerce.

But waiving the fees for an entire year will impact progress on the fire station planned for Livingston Road, Bronsdon said.

The district has already spent about $1 million to buy and clear the land for the station, which is estimated to cost $2.7 million overall, but has waited to sign contracts for construction pending availability of funds. The district has owned the land since 2000.

"The hardship will be that we might need to find alternative methods to build Station 48," Bronsdon said. "To the board it's definitely worth any loss of impact fees to look into those methods."

Lombardo said the North Naples fire district includes 80 square miles and about 92,000 individuals. That population swells to about 130,000 in season.

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