By DOTTY NIST
Walton County staff have been tasked with bringing back information on potential mobility fees or impact fees and a plan to fund road and other infrastructure projects.
Walton County District 4 Commissioner Donna Johns brought up the topic during the March 13 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse.
Johns was interested in knowing what had happened with the county’s previous effort toward mobility fees and also mentioned impact fees as a possibility for funding projects.
“With all the building that’s going on,” she said, “not only in the south end but also in Freeport right now, there’s so much going on that I think the developers need to pay for the impact that they’re causing to the area.”
“And what I mean by that,” Johns said, “is our infrastructure, the roads…trash, stormwater, parking—there’s so much impact that is done in the area…and obviously we’re not able to keep up with it.” She referenced “monster homes” and high-density neighborhoods that are being developed.
Johns noted that the county is looking at borrowing $40 million for road projects. This is an initiative about which Johns has expressed reservations.
Johns asked Kristen Shell, deputy Walton County planning and development services director, to come forward and discuss other options that might be available.
Shell referenced the “mobility fee exercise” that the county had undertaken approximately two years earlier. She also noted that impact fees or mechanisms for funding as part of development are currently in place to provide for recreation, stormwater, and water and sewer infrastructure work or projects.
Shell briefly discussed Walton County’s current mitigation program for transportation impacts from development, proportionate fair share, and other options, which would include impact fees or mobility fees.
She indicated that impact fees could be difficult to implement and that such programs could be “litigious.” Mobility fees, Shell observed, are a “different animal,” and also noted that state statutes also provide for a “hybrid” of the two types of fees that a number of local governments have pursued.
Shell spoke to the need to update the county’s proportionate fair share system and noted that staff would be bringing a proposal to the BCC to move forward on that, probably by the end of March.
Asked what had happened with the mobility fee proposal, Shell recalled that there had been a consensus that “the sales tax would have been a good option,” and that there had been a move to pursue that for transportation infrastructure funding in conjunction with the mobility fee.
Voters had rejected proposed one-cent sales tax for transportation infrastructure funding in the Nov. 2022 General Election.
“So,” Shell continued, “now we’re back at updating [proportionate] fair share or moving on with something else if the board has that desire.”
BCC Chairman Glidewell highlighted the need to update the mobility fee structure from the one that had been part of the earlier effort. He observed that there were currently some statutory changes pending with the legislature, including some related to affordable housing, that would need to be taken into consideration.
Glidewell suggested tasking staff with updating that mobility fee structure and bringing the BCC back a plan “that not only takes into consideration the fees, but also takes into consideration what the project needs are [for the] past three years.”
He noted that for mobility fees, bonding the proceeds is not allowable, “so we have to save that money up, and it’s going to take three to five years to have enough money to do anything.”
District 1 Commissioner Boots McCormick cautioned that he was “not a big supporter of impact fees,” mentioning restrictions on where funds from these fees can be spent. McCormick, who formerly served on the Freeport City Council, said that in his experience with the city, impact fees had been collected and were restricted from being used in the areas where the impact and priorities were the greatest.
Glidewell recalled that the sales tax for infrastructure had appeared to be a good option because “the sales tax could be used anywhere,” unlike impact fees and mobility fees, which would be restricted to being used in the areas where they were collected.
He also recalled that there had been concerns that mobility fees would be excessive. “I think the fee was $3,000 for a single-family dwelling, which is expensive,” Glidewell said, “and now with the latest affordable housing legislation, that might not even be legal.”
The discussion concluded with direction to staff to bring back information on “a plan that we can all agree on to work,” as Glidwell termed it.
Pending that information being presented at a future BCC meeting, there was no other action on the matter.