Article Courtesy of The
Daytona Beach News-Journal
By Dustin Wyatt
Published April 16, 2018
A developer is paying Volusia County $1.8 million to help widen a mile of
Williamson Boulevard — a deal county leaders and prominent developers say should
silence critics who question whether builders pitch in enough for roads when
mega-growth comes to town.
Such deals, known as proportionate share
agreements, are but a slice of a road-funding pie that has
been shrinking over the years — to the point that the county
and its 16 cities are looking to ask voters in November for
a half-cent sales tax to boost funding. Government officials
say they need the extra money because of dwindling gas tax
revenues at a time when new growth is straining Volusia’s
network of roads.
But they’ve been getting pushback from some residents who,
before they ante up with a higher sales tax, want to know
that developers benefiting from that new growth are paying
their fair share, too.
The County Council in February decided against increasing
road impact fees on new development — another slice of that
road-funding pie. At the time, county officials said the
reasons for pursuing a sales tax hike but not an increase in
impact fees were too complicated for most residents to
Afterward, a Feb. 25 News-Journal report
showed that many neighboring counties charge developers
higher rates than Volusia in road impact fees, and many
counties across the state have increased rates as
construction costs have gone up. A national expert called
Volusia an “outlier” because the county hasn’t raised its
rates in 15 years.
In response, county officials said proof that developers are
paying their way could be found in proportionate share
agreements, also known as “prop share,” a deal that County
Manager Jim Dinneen told council members “stays under the
radar” in the debate about the county’s impact fees rates.
“Let’s make this clear on the record,” he
said. “In addition to impact fees, they are paying prop
Developers of the Woodhaven housing community in Port
Orange paid about $300,000 for a nearby traffic signal as part of a
proportionate share deal with Volusia County. Such payments are
intended to help keep approved developments moving forward.
Developers who pay them are entitled by law to impact fee credits
equal to what they pay, so they are not paid on top of impact fees.
Which is true — to a point.
In response to a News-Journal request for a list of proportionate share
projects since 2013, the county cited the $1.8 million Williamson Boulevard
widening; about $300,000 for a traffic signal paid by ICI Homes, the
developer of the Woodhaven housing community in Port Orange; and $52,000 for
improvements to Saxon Boulevard paid by the developers of the 1,000-home
Parc Hill development in Orange City.
But the money — which helps ensure that developments move forward on
schedule with the necessary infrastructure — isn’t paid on top of impact
fees. Developers who pay into a proportionate share agreement are allowed to
save on the impact fees they owe. Or they can earn credits they can sell to
other developers so they can save, explained James Nicholas, an impact fee
consultant and professor emeritus of urban and regional planning and law at
the University of Florida.
And because Volusia’s impact fees tend to be lower than other counties and
haven’t kept up with the rising cost of construction, the county isn’t
generating as much from that source of revenue as other local governments,
“Florida law says that impact fees must be based on the most current and
localized data,” Nicholas said, joining a chorus of experts who questioned
Volusia’s policy. “Fifteen-year-old fees don’t (sound) like they are based
on the most current data.”
Yet County Council members continue to defend existing policies or dismiss
the debate as one that’s too complicated for critics to understand.
Proportionate share “is critical to the discussion that we are all in
today,” Council Vice Chair Deb Denys said at the March 6 meeting. “We have
existing impact fees, but developers are paying proportionate share fees on
top of impact fees. ... This strategy is brilliant. It really is.”
“I’ve had a few people really jumping all over me about the impact fee
issue,” Councilman Pat Patterson. “In politics, you make a one-minute
statement that requires a one-hour response that would put people to sleep.
And in this case, it’s several inches of print in the newspaper that really
takes many, many inches to really get all the facts out. ... It’s a lot more
complicated than just saying ‘Raise the impact fee.’”
With voters likely to face a question of whether to adopt a half-cent sales
tax hike for roads an infrastructure, The News-Journal is devoting “many,
many inches” of news space to take a closer look at the relationship between
impact fees and proportionate share agreements.
Slicing the pie
Volusia County funds road construction from a few sources — those slices of
pie mentioned earlier. The biggest slice is from gas taxes. Every time you
fuel up in Volusia, the county gets 12 cents per gallon. The county
collected $24.7 million in gas tax revenue in 2017.
That revenue stream dipped significantly after 2007 and remained flat until
around 2014. That seven year-span, during the Great Recession, amounted to
an estimated $14 million reduction in gas tax revenue. In 2015, the revenues
began to slowly increase. The 2017 totals are about only $1 million more
than they were in 2005.
The problem with gas tax money is that as cars become more fuel efficient,
motorists are gassing up less frequently — and the county gets fewer dollars
for its roads at a time when road construction costs are higher.
For example, the cost to construct one mile of a two-lane urban road is
roughly $4.8 million, according to figures provided by the county. To widen
an existing two-lane road to four-lanes is roughly $5.1 million per mile.
These estimates assume the county owns adequate right-of-way to construct
the road to include stormwater management. These estimates jump
significantly if the acquisition of land is required or environmental issues
“The economy has rebounded and so has inflation,” county spokeswoman Shelley
Szafraniec said, but “the cost of labor and materials have increased
significantly. In combination, they erode whatever gains we get in revenue.
The buying power of a ’05 dollar is not the same today as an ’18 dollar.”
To help make up the difference, the county and its cities have been
discussing for years the possibility of a half-cent sales tax. If approved
by voters, the extra sales tax money could generate $45 million a year, with
the county getting close to half that and the cities dividing the rest based
Last year, a group of city and county leaders collectively identified $1.4
billion in infrastructure shortfalls.
Another slice of the road construction pie comes from impact fees, which,
unlike the gas tax, is set by counties and cities. Volusia County has
collected roughly $14.7 million in road impact fees since 2013.
Impact fees vary widely in Florida. Some counties, like Flagler, don’t have
them at all or haven’t reinstated them since the recession. The fees are
charged by local governments to help defray the cost of growth’s impact on
services such as roads, schools and parks, among other things. In Volusia,
developers pay fees for roads, parks, fire services and schools. Because of
the push for the half-cent sales tax to boost transportation needs, this
story is focused on road impact fees.
Fees vary widely among local governments and among different property types.
A list of Volusia’s different fees is part of a 24-page document. The
differences make it challenging to compare one county with another.
Perhaps the easiest example is to compare the road impact fees charged for
new single-family homes. Volusia assesses a flat rate of $2,179 for new
house, regardless of its size or cost. By comparison, Brevard County charges
$4,353 for each new home.
Many other counties, including Seminole, Lake, Orange and St. Johns counties
charge different rates for each house, depending on size and location. St.
Johns County, which approved changes to its impact fee structure on April 4,
charges road impact fees between $4,133 (for a home under 800 square feet)
to $8,974 for homes larger than 5,000 square feet. A home of just over 2,500
square feet pays $7,337 in road impact fees.
Manatee County, which has a median income similar to Volusia’s $41,000 mark,
charges 20 different amounts for a new single-family home, ranging from
$1,896 to $8,587.
Although impact fees are not popular with the development industry, “They
are an excellent tool when designed and employed correctly,” said Timothy
Chapin, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Public at Florida State
“Complaints over impact fees are common,” he said. “So it is incumbent upon
the local government to explain the design, implementation and usage of
these fees to their citizens and business owners.”
The Volusia County Council cut short a discussion over raising impact fees
in February by dismissing the subject as too complicated to explain. In a
follow-up discussion at its March 6 meeting, council members muddied the
waters by suggesting proportionate share component was a source of funding
above and beyond impact fees.
It really isn’t.
Proportionate share “was never intended as a funding source for
transportation,” said Jon Weiss, director of development services in Orange
County, which generated $30.2 million in transportation impact fees in 2017.
By comparison, Volusia County collected $14 million in road impact fees over
a five year period between 2012 and 2017, records show.
Weiss went on to explain that proportionate share was intended to ensure
approved developments moved forward on time with the infrastructure they
needed. “Prop share was a mechanism created by the state ... (to) keep their
project moving forward.”
Developers who enter into a prop share agreement are entitled by state law
to impact fee credits equal to the amount they pay, said Clay Ervin,
Volusia’s director of growth and resource management.
That means if the prop share amount is less than what the developer would
pay in impact fees, the developer gets a discount. If the prop share amount
is more than the impact fee charge, the developer gets impact fee credits to
sell to other developers who come into the area.
In the case of the Williamson Boulevard widening project, the $1.8 million
paid by North American Development Group was nearly equal to what the
developer owed in impact fees, said Mark Watts, a land-use attorney with the
Daytona Beach firm Cobb Cole who represents the developer. Now the developer
will get impact fee credits, meaning the county isn’t seeing any extra road
revenue from the deal.
“They will turn in those credits in lieu of paying impact fees,” Watts said.
“They (the county) aren’t getting impact fee revenue, but they are getting
this specific improvement done. Every deal involves a different negotiation
to determine the most efficient way to improve the road network.”
Impact fees haven’t been successful in generating a consistent revenue flow
for roads in the past. Some say it’s because they haven’t increased in so
long. But the revenue earned has also gone into paying back a bond.
In the early 2000s, during an economic boom, the county took out a $65
million bond to expedite needed road projects — like improvements to
sections of Williamson, Howland and LPGA boulevards — changes that officials
say paved the way for the Trader Joe’s distribution center and the Tanger
Outlets mall. They expected to pay the bond back with what was then a steady
stream of impact fee revenue. Then the recession hit and revenues tanked.
In the end, the county has spent $13.4 million of its $14.7 million in
impact fees revenue since 2012 on debt services. That leaves about $1.2
million for roads, and the bond money is running out — leaving county
leaders focused on a potential push for a sales tax boost as a new revenue
Not keeping up
Given the nature of the prop share agreements, some national experts aren’t
buying Volusia’s assertion that they compensate for impact fee rates that
haven’t been adjusted in 15 years. Arthur Nelson, a professor of planning
and real estate development at the University of Arizona who has authored
college textbooks on impact fees and proportionate share, notes how much the
cost of construction has increased since the fees were last increased.
“Since 2003, road construction costs have risen 74 percent or roughly twice
the 36 percent increase in the cost of living,” Nelson wrote in an email.
“Road impact fees should be adjusted regularly to account for increases in
If they aren’t? “It may fall further behind because (proportionate share) is
based on current (construction) costs, while impact fees are based on older,
lower costs,” he wrote.
Joseph Little, a professor who teaches government and tax law at the
University of Florida, wasn’t familiar with specific conditions in Volusia
and didn’t wish to comment on them. But he did speak to the history of fees
and how difficult it can be for local elected officials to determine where
the bulk of revenue for infrastructure needs should come from. Should it be
through a tax initiative aimed at residents and tourists who use the roads
every day — or higher impact fees aimed at developers who build around them?
What ordinary residents see is, “Gosh, our streets are crowded, not being
kept up as they should be. We think the county should be imposing a (higher)
impact fee,” Little said. “And then you have the developer, saying, ‘Hey
wait a minute, we want to keep them low because we want to have more
development, not less, and increase our tax base.’ Under the surface you
have those two different interests that sometimes gets confronted in county
council meetings. And then it depends on who’s been elected.”
So how does it get decided?
“It’s a political matter,” he said, suggesting he couldn’t answer — even if
he were inclined — without knowing “to what extent developers control
elections in Volusia County.”
Campaign finance records show some of the most generous contributors to
local political campaigns include homebuilder Mori Hosseini; beachside
landowner George Anderson; officials with Consolidated-Tomoka, the land
holding company that sold the property for major projects like the Tanger
Outlets and Latitude Margaritaville; and officials with International
Speedway Corp., which developed One Daytona.
‘Everybody works together’
When asked about proportionate share agreements and impact fees at his
spacious office at ICI Homes, Hosseini spoke of how development fees can
affect the quality of life for young, married couples with low incomes and a
newborn baby. His goal, he says, and the main reason he’s so involved in
local politics, is to make Volusia County the best place to live and work.
Impact fees play a factor in that, since those costs are transferred to the
“The biggest investment that a young family makes is buying a house,” he
said. “That’s the dream. That’s the American dream. If you add on $1,000 to
impact fees, that does take some people out” of qualifying for a loan. “Make
no mistake about that.
“Does the community want a fireman, a policeman and the people who work
their butts off to own their own homes or not?”
Yet many of the counties with impact fees higher than Volusia’s have
experienced more rapid growth in recent years. And many of the new homes
being built in Volusia are marketed either exclusively or primarily to
Hosseini says he isn’t against impact fees altogether. Developers, he said,
should have to pay for infrastructure, and that’s why he supported impact
fees in the mid-1980s when Volusia County first implemented them.
A lot of the criticism toward the county’s impact fee rates has to do with
timing. In November, voters will be asked to decide if a half-penny sales
tax increase should be levied to provide cities and counties a new stream of
revenue for roads, stormwater improvements and flood control measures. Those
are items that developers put money toward through impact fees.
But looking at it another way, developers also pay sales tax for all
materials they purchase.
“If we need to look at raising the impact fee to help the community, so be
it,” Hosseini said. “But why should one group or the other pay for roads? I
think it should be all of the above. Everybody works together.”