Local News

Avon Park council divided on impact fee waiver

AVON PARK - With a member absent, the council split its vote on extending an impact fee waiver designed to attract businesses to vacant buildings in the city.

As soon as Mayor Sharon Schuler voted "no," she asked what the 2-2 split vote meant.

City Attorney Gerald Buhr said it meant the motion failed.

Councilman Parke Sutherland made the motion to extend the impact fee waiver, which had been in place for two years, for another two years.

Sutherland and Councilman Garrett Anderson voted "yes" and Deputy Mayor Brenda Giles, along with Schuler, voted "no."

Councilman Terry Heston was not in attendance at the meeting.

After the vote, Sutherland wanted to continue discussion on the issue, but Giles wanted to move on.

During the talks on the issue, George Hall said he had to pay impact fees when he started his businesses. Waiving the fees devalues his business investment.

"I am sorry that there are businesses that don't do their homework and find out what the impact fees are before they go into business," he said. "I am the guy who is here year round. When there is no money moving in the summer, my businesses are still open.

"And, you all are taking money off the table of my businesses and their value by waiving impact fees."

City Manger Julian Deleon said Tuesday he plans on bringing the ordinance back to the city council at the Dec. 9 meeting.

The ordinance provides up to a $20,000 utility impact fee credit for new businesses going into existing vacant buildings, he noted.

"This has been an extremely important ordinance which has facilitated the revitalization of the city's downtown commercial corridor," Deleon said. "In my opinion, based on this utility impact fee credit, we have converted previously empty buildings and attracted three new restaurants in the downtown area, a barber shop and two more restaurants waiting to open."

The empty buildings do nothing productive, he noted.

If the impact fee incentive helps the city attract new businesses and promotes the utilization of existing buildings while adding jobs, it needs further consideration by the council, Deleon said.

Deleon continues to recommend a five-year extension of the waiver.

The council can retract it sooner if the economy improves, but revisiting it every two years is not practical, he said.

Schuler said Tuesday that she and Deleon have some other ideas concerning the impact fees and other ways to attract businesses to the city.

Council approved the waiver in 2011 by a 2-1 vote with Schuler voting "no." Heston abstained from voting, noting that he had spoken to the city attorney. Sutherland was absent from the meeting.