During a half-hour workshop preceding the Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission on August 4, 2015, Dr. James C. Nicholas presented and reviewed a draft update of the Parks, Fire, Police and Public Facilities Impact Fee Study.
Nicholas, University of Florida professor emeritus, is the former Associate Director of the UF Environmental and Land Use Law Program. He is recognized as international expert in natural resource and land use management, Florida growth management legislation, urban land economics, urban and regional planning and environmental and urban problems. Nicholas prepared the 2004 study upon which the current impact fees are based.
Not to be confused with water and sewer impact fees, the fees that were the subject of Nicholas’ study are development impact fees assessed on new construction to cover a percentage of the costs of new construction required to support the public infrastructure needs of new residential or commercial building. Those infrastructure needs include: parks and recreation; fire and rescue; police protection; public buildings and facilities.
The impact fees under study were last set in 2004. Under Florida Statute 163.31801, these fees must be based on the most recent and localized data. As with water and sewer impact fees, these fees must also meet the Dual Rational Nexus test, meaning that: impact fees may be no more than the government’s infrastructure costs that are reasonably attributable to the new development; and the new development required to pay impact fees must benefit from the expenditure of those fees.
Nicholas noted that the growth rate for dwelling units exceeds that of the population. The population considered in the study includes the people actually here, not official resident population. This is the population the city actually serves and includes non-residents as well.
In presenting his findings and recommendations, Nicholas reminded commissioners that the new fees proposed are the maximum allowed by law, but they have discretion to adopt lower fees. “What decision you make,” he said, “is a legislative decision.” Nicholas presented detailed recommendations by facility, which may be viewed in his slide presentation entitled Development Impact Fees dated August 4, 2015, and available from City Hall.
Local attorney and candidate for City Commission Group 5 Clinch Kavanaugh spoke during public input. He questioned the recreation data cited in the study, suggesting that the beaches and Fort Clinch should have been included in the acreage of recreational area. Nicholas later replied that the acreage included in the study is acreage that the city pays for. Fort Clinch is a state park; the beaches are not city owned. However, city beach parks were included. Nicholas said that there is nothing you can do to include so-called “day trippers” to the beaches. They are only calculated if they stay in a tourist accommodation.
Kavanaugh also took issue with Nicholas’ use of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). He said that Nicholas used very old cases in supporting his recommendations, noting that the law has evolved significantly. Nicholas said that he had only cited those cases that were the basis for establishing the development impact fee, which have not changed, although new cases are coming out all the time.
Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary advised that study results would return to the commission in the form of an ordinance reflecting new fees.