By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs City Councilmen swiftly turned in a unanimous vote to renew the moratorium on impact fees, extending the waiver until May 31 of next year.
The moratorium, effectively now in its fourth year of existence, was cited by Councilman Ron Kelley as being one of the keys to continued growth in DeFuniak’s business sector. He called impact fees a “business killer” that neither helped existing businesses trying to expand their services nor encouraged new businesses to set up shop in the city. When the same item came up for discussion last year, the council members in favor of extending the moratorium used the 17 new businesses that located in the city during the time of the suspension of impact fees.
“If I had my way we’d make a 10-year moratorium,” Kelley said.
While it is true that the board members cast a 5-0 vote in favor of continuing the moratorium, Councilman Mac Carpenter took issue with the way in which the whole procedure occurred. He said the city had once again taken significant action on an item that affects the budget without the item being listed on the agenda – it was a last-minute addition before the start of the May 12 meeting. Carpenter, who cast the lone vote against extending the moratorium last year for similar procedural reasons, said the public deserves to be given sufficient notification that such discussions will be before the Council before the members call for a vote.
Discussion about the impact fee moratorium came at the tail end of the meeting, during which the Council handled a quite a few big-ticket items from the city’s engineering firm, Preble-Rish, Inc., in a relatively short period of time.
First, the Council approved an invoice from Preble-Rish on engineering services related to water line replacement that were performed in 2012. The city was not initially invoiced the $85,800 needed for the project since it was not selected for a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Block Grant at that time. However, with the recent acquisition of the hoped-for grant, which totals some $417,000-plus, the city could at last be invoiced for the project, which carried with it $85,800-worth of engineering fees.
Next, the Council voted unanimously in favor of authorizing Preble-Rish to complete Phase II of the site evaluation and certification process at the city’s industrial park, which will cost the city $28,500. For that price Preble-Rish will evaluate the project’s environmental impact in several areas including state-listed protected animal and plant species, potable water, wetlands and wastewater, while also giving consideration to telecommunications at the site and developing a master plan for the site. Approval of the certification process’ second phase will keep the city on-track to meet its Gulf Power site certification program deadline – coming up in a few months’ time – while also ensuring that a business locating at the industrial complex would not have to do its own Phase II environmental study.
The board also swiftly passed two items brought forward by City Attorney Clayton Adkinson, the first being to approve a lease termination agreement with Nextel WIP Lease Corporation, which used the city’s water tower as an antenna site. Secondly, the board voted to approve an amendment to the municipal code allowing the hours of operation for city rental buildings like the Community Center or Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood to be set by resolution instead of by ordinance.
Finally, the Council once more tabled discussion on the issue of whether or not to purchase a mobile phone application for the city. Carpenter told the other board members that some time spent using the apps of both iCity Corp. and Civic Plus revealed a few differences between the companies’ offerings – namely that the app of the former has the capability to list and link to the websites of local businesses while the latter’s does not. He expressed his interest in taking some more time to look at both options before the Council made a decision, given the possibility for greater civic engagement with the smart phone-carrying public.
By REID TUCKER