County has collected $0 in impact fees
Builders in Santa Rosa County scrambled to apply for building permits before an educational impact fee ordinance went into effect May 4, which has led to the county collecting $0 in impact fees in the past month.
The fee is intended to be collected at the issuance of residential building permits. It charges builders $5,000 for single-family houses, $4,000 for mobile homes and $2,750 for multi-family units — a fee that builders say will be passed on to the home buyer.
However, county officials said they received a surge of building permit applications before the ordinance went into effect and have received very few since then.
"The county received 357 new home submissions the week prior to (Friday), May 1," said county spokeswoman Brandi Bates in an email to the News Journal. "Since then, no applications have reached the point in the process where payment is due."
Roughly 10 to 15 permit applications have been submitted since May 4.
If permit applicants were far enough along in the process and met all of the requirements at the time they submitted their application prior to May 4, they did not have to pay the impact fee. However, some applicants did not meet all of the requirements and will be subjected to the impact fee when their application is approved. It's unclear exactly how many applications did or didn't meet the requirements.
The county is charged with collecting educational impact fees on behalf of the school district per the interlocal agreement. However, as litigation looms over the ordinance, the district has opted to have the county hold onto the money until a judge issues a ruling on the matter.
If the county collects any money in impact fees, that money should be transferred to the school district's coffers to be put toward building new schools. Instead, it's being escrowed in an interest-bearing account until Santa Rosa County Circuit Court Judge Darlene Dickey makes a "final determination" in the civil lawsuit brought forth by local home builders, according to school district documents.
"On or about April 17, 2020, a complaint was filed ... challenging the legality of the educational facilities impact fees and seeking to either enjoin the enforcement of the ordinance, or require the county to retain all educational facilities impact fees in an interest-bearing account and suspend transfers to the school board until a final judicial determination in (the case)," the school district's resolution states.
The April 17 lawsuit was filed by lawyers for the Home Builders Association of West Florida and 11 home building companies that operate in Santa Rosa County. The lawsuit names the Board of County Commissioners and the Santa Rosa County School District as defendants.
According to court documents, the suit claims that there are flaws in the way the school district's impact fee consultant calculated the amount of fees and the number of students impacted by new construction; that the ordinance unlawfully delegates county authority to the school board; and that the impact fees are "invalid, unconstitutional and illegal."
The school district has hired Tallahassee-based law firm Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson to jointly defend them and the Board of County Commissioners, which it is required to do per the interlocal agreement. The district could spend tens of thousands of dollars fighting the lawsuit. Per its retainer letter, the law firm is charging $300 per hour for partners, $250 per hour for firm associates and $75 an hour for law clerks/paralegals.
The school board could seek to recoup its money if it is successful in defeating the HBA's lawsuit.
The school board's latest resolution ordering the funds to be escrowed means that it will cease new school-related expenditures that would have been funded by the incoming dollars. The district has asked the county to remit the funds to the school board once the judge has decided on the case.
The judge will rule on the HBA's request to temporarily stop the collection of impact fees on June 10.
Annie Blanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8632.