County commissioners next week will be considering whether to ditch commercial impact fees temporarily in an attempt to nudge businesses into building — and creating precious jobs.
The idea comes from Commissioner Jimmy Conner, who is always worrying like the proverbial nervous old lady about whether he appears "anti-business," the new code word for anybody who expresses the least concern about overbuilding houses in Lake.
Although Conner's idea may not harm Lake or the people who live here, the notion that it would be useful is unrealistic. It's just a little wheel-spinning and posturing. It's a nice gesture of support.
The proposal comes on the heels of a vote by our neighbors to the north in Marion County, where commissioners on Jan. 5 decided to give builders a break for three months on transportation impact fees. After 90 days, the fees go back to normal.
But then, this is also a commission that earlier the same day approved a proposal from a
company to expand its operations into Ocala. The county, the city and the state worked together to offer Santelli Tempered Glass Inc. a package of goodies worth $582,844.
The reason the figure was so high is that Marion worked to establish what's called an enterprise zone. Such zones are approved by the state in areas where poverty and unemployment are widespread.
Businesses in that zone are eligible for incentives that include sales-tax credits for creating jobs, corporate income-tax credits, sales-tax refunds for business equipment and building materials and a partial sales-tax reduction for electrical energy. Then, there is also whatever the city and the county want to offer in the way of incentives.
Officials had barely put the last flourish on the zone creation when Santelli waltzed into town, bringing 35 new jobs and $3.3 million in machinery and equipment.
Marion County must have gotten a shipment of that economic pixie dust. Is ours in the mail?
But, we digress.
Impact fees give developers an easy target to shoot at, but the truth is that nobody is building — or not building — because of them. The causes of the slump are deeper and far more complex than impact fees.
In making the suggestion to waive the fees, Conner asked, "What can we do that is meaningful and can have some impact?"
Pause. He didn't get an answer, either from his own economic-development staffers or those of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, which was out in full force that day to defend how it spends about $300,000 in money from Lake taxpayers to attract
. Perhaps they do not know.
Conner acknowledged that doing away with impact fees might spur companies to "create a few jobs, maybe not many."
And Commissioner Jennifer Hill piped up to say she hears complaints about companies not being able to get through the permitting process more quickly, not about the size of the fee.
More worrisome, said Commissioner Elaine Renick, could be the unintended consequences of lifting fees.
The one example Conner cited was a group of doctors in
who want to build a
center but were put off by the amount of the transportation impact fees.
Here are two things to think about.
First, should the county provide an incentive that could hurt local hospitals, which have contributed to the community over a long period of years? Surgery centers typically cherry-pick the insurance-laden patients with uncomplicated surgeries — the biggest profit-makers in the health-care business.
Second, what about the other two surgery centers in Lake? One that opened in Mount Dora paid $31,125 in transportation impact fees in March when economic conditions were just as bad as they are now. And the other, under construction on U.S. Highway 441 in Tavares, has received a deferral but must pay $86,006 before being issued a certificate of occupancy. Should that business have to pay?
And then there's the money the county would lose in transportation impact fees. The county could not lift fees on commercial buildings but impose them on homes, so commissioners would have to impose a moratorium on both.
Records show that the county in fiscal year 2009 collected about $1.9 million in impact fees from commercial properties and $1.7 million from homes, money that can be used only to build roads.
Would enough extra construction be generated and jobs created to offset the loss of fees from building that would come anyway? That seems doubtful. So perhaps this would become a very expensive gesture. It's those pesky unintended consequences again.
Engaging in a hollow show of support isn't productive, anyway. It just avoids real work on the real issue: What is the best route Lake County can take to attract jobs?
Lauren Ritchie can be reached at
You may leave her a message at 352-742-5918. Her blog is online at