Everyone will be unfairly impacted if new fees aren’t passed

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LAKE ASBURY – Coppergate Elementary is located on Henley Road, about 150 yards from County Road 220. A block past CR 220 on Henley is RideOut Elementary. And around the corner from the end of Henley is Shadowlawn Elementary.

Those three elementary schools are separated by just 6.7 miles.

Land has been cleared midway on Henley for a new housing development. And at the end of Henley, several thousand homes are planned along County Road 218 near Shadowlawn.

In that same stretch, there’s only one junior high, and the two closest high schools are Middleburg and Clay.

When those houses are completed, we’re going to need more elementary schools. And as those children get older, the demands will be shifted to needing more junior and senior highs.

How are we going to pay for all of that growth? Impact fees.

The idea of tacking a fee onto the price of new construction has been used by hundreds of municipalities. If we need new schools, roads, jails, parks, libraries, more law enforcement and firefighters and infrastructure, the people creating the additional demand should absorb a big part of the cost.

The Board of County Commissioners will vote on an impact fee at its Dec. 13 meeting as part of its long-range Comprehensive Plan through 2045. During a recent workshop, the developers said their math came up with fees that were less than what was suggested by Willdan Financial Services.

In all fairness, once a county is developed, the builders move onto new territories, make their money without a lot of headwinds and then get out. Whether you’ve just moved here from another state or you’ve been here your entire life, we’re all stuck with the final bill.

That’s why the impact fee must be approved.

Willdan’s study compared the growth and the impact it leaves on a community with other counties. It came up with a simple plan that each new house 1,500 square feet and smaller would be assessed a one-time fee of $3,666. Houses between 1,501-2,499 square feet will pay $4,877 and a single-family home larger than 2,500 square feet will be assessed $6,103.

Fees range from $367 for a new office to $6,103.

Make no mistake: we need development. We need new commerce. But it must be done responsibly. Growth is a good thing. Out-of-control growth is not. It’s bad enough our children may soon be crammed into elementary schools because we couldn’t match the fervor to live here, but it’s worse if they have to spend the rest of their lives paying for our neglect.

According to Willdan, the development impact fee schedule “summarizes the maximum justified development impact fee schedule that would meet the county’s identified needs and does not unfairly overburden new development.”

The addition of the First Coast Expressway will only exasperate the need for additional services.

As many as 20,000 new homes and apartments are expected to be built between Governors Park and the Sandridge Road area.

Willdan told the BCC the county will need an additional $227.1 million to fund necessary projects in the future. The greatest need is $62.2 million for new fire and rescue facilities.

According to Fire Rescue Chief Lorin Mock, the number of calls has risen by 40% from 2015 to 2022. The county has 12 current stations and an agreement with Orange Park which increases coverage to 13 stations.

Of the county’s 12 stations, nine were originally built as volunteer stations with two bays and none can be expanded.

“I can’t have the new homes go in and not have the services for it,” Mock said “I don’t know how to protect it. We’re going to exceed the capability without major changes.”

The same goes for police, water, sewage, roads, parks and, especially, our children’s schools.

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