Debate heats up over raising impact fees in Lee County

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Is there another way to help improve your child’s school without raising your sales tax?

Some say yes—with higher impact fees.

Impact fees are what you or a developer pays when building in Lee County. It funds things like roads and schools. Five years ago, commissioners slashed those rates.

Commissioner Frank Mann has been fighting for higher impact fee rates for years. In 2013, he was outvoted 4-1 when the county decided to lower the percentage of fees they collected to 45 percent of what the law allows.

He says today, the effects are evident.

“The school system could have built at least one whole new school by now, if not two by using the impact fees that we have not been charging,” Mann said.

The Lee County School District has one of the biggest needs right now as students continue to pour in at an alarming rate.

“Within the past 10 years, we’ve averaged a student growth of about 1,800 students per year. That is the equivalent of about a high school a year,” school officials said.

They also say their budget just can’t keep up. They are looking at a $478 million shortfall.

Last week, the school board announced they want a special election to ask voters to increase Lee County’s sales tax by half a cent. But some who disagree with raising taxes wonder why they don’t just revert impact fee rates to their highest levels.

Last year, impact fees generated just under $7 million for the district. That’s about $50 million less than what they collected before the cuts.

But even if the county increases the rates, it still might not be enough.

“It really only fills about 10 percent, or about $45 million of the $478 million shortfall that we’re looking at within the next five years,” said Dr. Ami Desamours, Lee School’s financial adviser.

“The combination of aggressive growth, reductions in our funding and the aging of our facilities have really created an issue in our district,” Desamours said.

That’s why they’re asking voters to approve a tax hike. They say the sales tax hike would generate the money they need, over $500 million in five years.

They’re also asking county commissioners to approve a special election for that vote in May.

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