Homebuilders win appellate case re: Santa Rosa impact fee

The First District Court of Appeal today affirmed Santa Rosa Circuit Court Judge Darlene Dickey’s temporary injunction against collection of the Santa Rosa County’s school impact fee – a victory for the Home Builders Association of West Florida and 11 additional plaintiffs.

The ordinance by the Board of County Commissioners in support of new funding for the School Board of Santa Rosa County went into effect May 1, 2020, with impact fees of $5,000 on each new home permitted in the county, $4,000 for each mobile home, and $2,750 for each multi-family dwelling.

In her ruling, Judge Dickey cited the county and school board’s failure to establish the state-mandated “rational nexus and proportionately” standards, which restrict the use of new impact fees to the capital facilities needed to address the impact of a new development.

She also noted that the methodology used to establish the fee ignored important geographic and demographic factors distinguishing the unidentified “north” and “south” ends of the county, did not utilize the most recent and localized data, and contained numerous mathematical errors and inconsistencies.

“In her 59-page order, Judge Dickey well-explains why the new ‘School Impact Fee’ imposed on all new residential construction is not a valid fee, but an unconstitutional tax,” said Ken Bell, counsel for HBA of West Florida and several builders. “Forcing someone struggling to afford a new mobile home in Allentown to pay a $4,000 ‘user fee’ so that others in Navarre or Gulf Breeze may have a new school is clearly not a ‘user fee’ but rather an unlawful tax. The School Board may need to raise additional revenue to build new schools, but it must do so legally.”