By Dawn Krebs
FORT PIERCE - At the Oct. 15 Fort Pierce City Commission meeting, commissioners voted to unanimously waived collecting impact fees for one year in an attempt to stimulate development within city limits.
The decision came after a discussion questioning the effectiveness of the action.
Impact fees are government imposed on new developments to offset the costs associated with that development, such as parks or roads.
Since development has slowed down, the city has only collected approximately $440,000 since 2009 in impact fees.
"I'm someone who has pushed the issue," said Mayor Bob Benton, who had discussed the issue earlier in the year at other meetings. "I think the majority of (the impact fees) were brought in by residential developments, instead of businesses. It's something we need to try as a way to stimulate business."
But while the idea might sound good, city staff did not find any evidence suspending the fees increased building permit activity in other areas of the state.
"Changes to the existing interlocal agreements and to the city's comprehensive plan will be needed," said Matthew Margotta, the city's director of planning.
Some commissioners were hesitant to waive the fees.
"I'm not convinced by abating any impact fees we'll have people rushing to build," said Commissioner Tom Perona, who said that if fees were waived, he would like to see a time frame to be able to track the results.
"I will always give a shot to try things out that can at least show some effort by the city to try to build a little economic boost."
Another issue, however, is that only the city can waive its impact fees. A business will still be responsible for any county impact fees that might be accessed.
The county considered suspending impact fees in 2009 and 2010, but did not implement a moratorium; instead, it used other economic development incentives to try to entice businesses to the area.
Commissioner Edward Becht also pointed out impact fees help pay for important city projects.
When impact fees are collected in the city, the money goes into a restricted fund that allocates the money toward specific projects.
"If it hadn't been for impact fees, the PAL Park would never have been built," Commissioner Becht said.
Impact fees also went to help pay a portion of the Melody Lane pier, the recreational trails grant, the new bike racks at city hall and downtown Fort Pierce and the pedestrian bridge at Garden Avenue.
Mr. Margotta told the commissioners that funding for these projects would have to be found elsewhere.
"Alternate funding sources will need to be identified," he said.
At that, the commissioners voted to waive the impact fees for one year, and requested Mr. Margotta to come back to the commission with a decision in the form of an ordinance, but also with ideas for funding city projects in the future.