Impact fees have been reduced 80 percent - effective immediately - on new construction in unincorporated Lee County.
The Lee County Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 March 12 to reduce fees for two years on new residential and commercial construction.
The reduction will sunset March 13, 2015.
County Commissioner Frank Mann was against the decision to slash construction fees charged on new homes and other buildings to offset related project costs such as roads, schools and parks.
Mann urged commissioners to keep the impact fee structure status quo.
"Someone has to pay for roads and schools. It's all part of growth," Mann said. "We've had a recession here and nothing you can do with impact fees will help those 25,000 homes that were foreclosed on.
"We're talking about defending the quality of life in Lee County and it's affected when we can't keep our roads up and when our schools and parks deteriorate. For the wrong reasons, the commission has voted to, in essence, suspend impact fees. That will cost us $8 million at a time we need that."
Construction industry advocates, however, hailed the decision.
"We're so glad the county commission had the political will to do what we feel will create jobs in Lee County, and help diversify the tax base," said Heather Mazurkewicz, Lee County Building Industry Association president.
Fire and EMS fee are excluded from the reduction.
Many Lee County residents opposed the reduction in a nearly 90-minute public comment session.
"The county will lose millions and we'll see our infrastructure crumble and property taxes increase," said Scotty Wood of Estero. "The economy is improving. Don't give away something to stimulate something that's already growing."
Other opponents said there is no correlation between impact fees and improved economic health. They claimed builders are part of a special interest group looking for a handout.
Anthony Greico, president of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, said property values haven't risen enough to say a comeback is in full swing.
"Property levels are where they were two decades ago. This is for only two years and we'll move on," Greico said.
Former Cape Coral Mayor Joe Mazurkewicz said cutting impact fees won't solve all problems.
"In the best of times, it's the best of revenues. We hope the reduction will increase the momentum we've begun to build," Mazurkewicz said. "Forgive fees one time to collect more ad valorem. That's the answer to your $28 million question."
Sullivan said residential and commercial construction issues need to be addressed separately.
"Homes and commercial development are two different animals. People didn't come here because of the impact fees. To suspend the fees is a mistake," Sullivan said. "You're trying to shoot rabbits with a howitzer."
County staff is required to update commissioners on economic indicators such as employment, taxable sales and permits on development after the first year of the reduction period.