By REID TUCKER
Extending a moratorium on impact fees sparked a debate among members of the DeFuniak Springs City Council, with new member Mac Carpenter coming out in favor of tabling the issue until June.
Councilman Henry Ennis’ motion at the May 13 meeting to extend the suspension of the fees until May 31 of next year was quickly seconded, but Carpenter countered with a motion to have city staff research the effects of the moratorium since it was first implemented two years ago. Carpenter opposed approving the moratorium extension until a full report had been submitted to the Council at its first meeting in June. He argued that neither he nor the public had sufficient information about the pros and cons of extending the moratorium and what benefits it may or may not have provided to the city.
“The only thing on the agenda is ‘impact fees,’” Carpenter said. “There’s not anything on the agenda that says we’re going to continue them, (or if) we’re going to increase them, (or if) we’re going to decrease them. There’s no explanation of what’s on here, so nobody in the public knew anything about what we were about to do tonight. I certainly didn’t know.
“I very may well vote the same way the rest of this board will because it might be the right thing to do, but I don’t have any information on this right now.”
The other four councilmen all spoke in favor of the moratorium, citing the 17 new businesses and two expanded businesses that opened during the time impact fees have been suspension, plus the numerous phone calls and conversations with prospective businesses looking to locate in DeFuniak Springs. Councilman Ron Kelley said that, in their experience, the moratorium had been so successful at attracting new businesses and helping existing ones that he would even be in favor of extending the moratorium for longer than a year at a time. While Mayor Bob Campbell approved of the Council’s past decisions to waive impact fees for new and expanding businesses, the time was coming to take a look at the potential long-term effects on the city, especially as the U.S. 331 expansion project picked up the pace.
“[Impact fees are] not an imaginary thing – it’s real,” Campbell said. “I think it’s been good, what [the Council] has done, but you’ve got to be careful that you don’t go too long with this because impact fees impact our systems….The city is going to absorb the cost. When we waive that, we don’t really waive it, we shift it to the taxpayer.”
Carpenter’s motion to table the decision until June nevertheless died for lack of a second and the original motion to extend the moratorium until next May passed 3-1, with Carpenter casting the lone nay vote.
The remainder of the Council’s agenda was occupied by a few key items that all met with unanimous votes to approve.
DeFuniak Springs Police Chief Mark Weeks got the go-ahead to purchase three new police cruisers, 2013 Dodge Chargers, at a state contract price of $24,589 per vehicle. City Manager Sara Bowers recommended that the DFSPD purchase the base model vehicles and purchase the additional equipment separately (adding up to a total on-the-road cost of $34,926), rather than to purchase cars with the police gear included in the price. Auditors could bring down undue scrutiny on the city in the event of a discrepancy if the state contract price for the fully equipped versions of the vehicles did not include all the law enforcement-specific add-ons, Bowers said.
The Council also approved agreements with APAC Mid South, Inc. for the transportation of natural gas as well as a slightly modified version of the city’s roadside maintenance agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation. The board awarded a contract for the construction of a multi-unit t-hangar at the municipal airport to Slack Construction, Inc. at the amount of $368,010. The contract is subject to FDOT funding availability, but Bowers said the project was within budget.
Finally, the Council took care of community event decisions, including granting permission to the local Kiwanis Club to host its 10th annual Take a Kid Fishing Day at the Lakeyard on June 10. The board also approved closing Circle Drive for the annual Fourth of July parade and also placed a ban on fireworks other than those used by professionals in the Lakeyard on the day of the fireworks show. Lastly, Candy Nowling of The Matrix Community Outreach Center reported to the board that 1,140 food items were collected at the Third-Annual Marvel of Flight expo, held May 14 at the municipal airport.
The Council voted unanimously to cancel its May 27 meeting in observance of Memorial Day with the understanding that a special meeting could be convened another day if a matter needing immediate action was to be placed on the board.