Commissioners flooded with emails opposed to impact fee moratorium

Corey Perrine/Staff
District 2's Cecil Pendergrass calls on Beverly MacNellis who raised her hand to ask a question Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 at Estero Community Park. A few dozen came to hear keynote speaker Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass during the Estero Council of Community Leaders meeting. Pendergrass came to update the group on issues Lee County faces this year.

Photo by COREY PERRINE // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff District 2's Cecil Pendergrass calls on Beverly MacNellis who raised her hand to ask a question Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 at Estero Community Park. A few dozen came to hear keynote speaker Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass during the Estero Council of Community Leaders meeting. Pendergrass came to update the group on issues Lee County faces this year.

Lee County Commissioner John Manning

Lee County

Lee County Commissioner John Manning

Larry Kiker

Larry Kiker

If emails alone changed minds, Lee County commissioners wouldn't consider a proposed two-year impact fee moratorium.

Since Commissioner John Manning proposed the moratorium in mid-January, commissioners say their inboxes have been flooded with emails on the issue. Most are opposed to the moratorium, including more than 600 from Estero residents alone.

Some residents are terrified the moratorium would lead to pay cuts, firefighters being fired, and dirt roads remaining unpaved. Others are worried it would bring more people to the area.

"I just do not want more people here," one resident told Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass.

Pendergrass said he has received more than 800 emails on the issue, while county staff said Commissioners John Manning and Larry Kiker have received more than 1,500 and more than 700 respectively.

However, many of the residents' fears are unfounded, commissioners said. Impact fees are collected from new construction projects in unincorporated Lee County, not in municipalities, and are used to support future building. They cannot be used to pay for maintenance or salaries.

"As far as the sky is falling, teachers losing their jobs, firemen losing their jobs, that's not true," Pendergrass said.

One school district employee emailed Pendergrass saying the impact fees are needed, in part to pay employee salaries.

"The state and government is taking from our pay checks year after year," the employee wrote. "We are not getting any pay raises so our check just keeps getting smaller and smaller. Everything in our economy is going up but our paycheck. Please keep the impact fee!"

School impact fees would affected by the moratorium. However, money collected from those fees can only be used for new construction projects, not salaries, officials said. Currently the school district has more than $170 million in reserves collected from impact fees, but enrollment is down and there is no need to tap into the funds at the moment, county officials said.

The moratorium will not affect impact fees collected by municipalities, Commissioner John Manning said.

Manning proposed the moratorium to give the construction industry a break and increase development.

"The crash of the construction and real estate market saw thousands of jobs lost in Lee County and most were in my district," Manning wrote to a constituent. "As a result we became the foreclosure capital of the United States and unemployment rose to 11 percent. Suspending impact fees for two years is not going to impact the projects that we have in place."

The Local Planning Agency warned commissioners in late January to only suspend impact fees if there is another way to generate money for schools, parks, and emergency services. On Tuesday, the commissioners are slated to discuss the issue and open it up to the public for comment.

During the meeting they are expected to consider implementing a mobility fee, which is similar to an impact fee, but allows for more flexibility with the money collected. Manning also said he plans to remove EMS and fire from the proposed moratorium, but they would be the only exceptions.

Pendergrass told the Estero Council of Community Leaders on Friday that he has his own take on the impact fee debate.

"I'm going to present Tuesday that I want to (have impact fees imposed) on a regional basis that will spur growth in certain places," Pendergrass said. He said he plans to share a map with parts of Lee County shaded representing where he believes impact fees should be continued.

The Lee County Commission meets at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Old Courthouse in downtown Fort Myers.

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