It’s been a decade since the St. Mary’s River Management Committee updated its strategic plan and now the group is working to narrow its focus.
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The Baker County Prevention Coalition, a nonprofit group targeting substance abuse problems, is broadening its mission as it prepares an application for federal grant money that could sustain the coalition for years to come.
Politics in Baker County has a new player that pledges to promote private property rights and economic development and to keep a close eye on state and local elected officials to make sure they share the same goals.
When impact fees were increased on new residential developments in Macclenny almost nine years ago, the higher costs didn’t have much effect on the construction of single-family residences because they were simply passed along to the home buyers.
The impact fees on duplexes, however, soared from around $5,200 to nearly $25,000, which brought that segment of the construction industry to an immediate halt in the city, one builder told city officials last week in a plea for lower fees.
“No duplex has been built in Macclenny since the fees went up in 2005,” Rock Rhoden, owner of Rock Contracting Custom Homes, told city commissioners during a board meeting the evening of February 11.
He asked the board to schedule a workshop with himself and other interested contractors to discuss the fees and consider lowering them in an effort to make the construction of duplexes a more affordable business decision.
Arranging financing for construction of duplexes in Macclenny now is virtually impossible, he claims, because of the additional fees.
“Going from $5,000 to $25,000, that’s a bunch,” Mr. Rhoden said. “It’s going to be hard to get them appraised.”
Mr. Rhoden said he’s prepared to begin building 12 new duplexes — 24 separate rental units — if impact fees are lowered to bring down his costs enough to make the projects more economically viable.
At today’s rates, he said, his total permit fees would amount to about $300,000, which would put the projects out of reach. If the fees totaled around $200,000 he said he could do it.
Some counties treat duplexes like single family residences, in terms of the impact fees assessed, he said, whereas builders here are hit with much higher fees for duplexes.
“Nobody has paid these new fees (in Macclenny),” Mr. Rhoden told commissioners. “I’m hoping we can work together and meet somewhere in the middle.”
Mayor Gary Dopson said he didn’t mind researching how other jurisdictions handle impact fees for duplexes and agreed that $25,000 “is a lot of money.” But he noted that most of that amount is allocated for water and sewer tap-in fees and impact fees that go to the school district.
“The city’s impact fee is only about $3,500,” the mayor said, referring to the city’s fee for traditional single-family homes.
Impact fees are charges assessed against new developments that are intended to provide funding for infrastructure improvements — roads and utilities, school expansions, and increased law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services — necessitated by growth.
“We could give a break on the (utility) tie-in fee, but I can almost guarantee you” the city will not lower the impact fees on duplexes to put them more in line with the fees assessed for single family residences, the mayor said.
Commissioner Vern Bennett said that Mr. Rhoden’s request should be given serious consideration, adding that the board would explore the pros and cons of reducing fees and “do our best to get this deal done.”
Mayor Dopson said city leaders decided “a long time ago” to impose user fees and impact fees to pay for increased government services brought about by growth instead of funding infrastructure improvements with property taxes. But as far as Mr. Rhoden’s request goes, the mayor said: “We’ll research it.”
“If we can get it down I’m going to build 12 of them (duplexes),” Mr. Rhoden said.
Mayor Dopson said one of his main concerns with lowering the impact fees would be to entice so many duplex builders that they could overwhelm the city’s ability to furnish water and sewer services to their new rental properties.
City Manager Phil Rhoden said he didn’t foresee that happening.
“They’re just asking for some relief to be competitive, and be competitive in our city,” the city manager said. “There are limited locations (zoned for duplexes), so the city won’t be overrun with duplex development.”
Commissioner Sam Kitching, who joined the board a few months ago, also expressed a desire to work with Mr.
Rhoden and other contractors to reduce their fee expenses.
“We do want to help if there’s any way possible,” Mr. Kitching said, adding, however, that he felt the city had been “fair and logical in setting our impact fees.”
He went on to explain that a duplex should be required to generate more impact fees than a single family home because two families live on the same property in a duplex, which is twice as many utility connections and twice as many potential calls to 911 for emergency services.
A woman who answered the phone at Mr. Rhoden’s office in Macclenny said the site for the proposed duplexes is north of the Heritage Oaks subdivision off North Lowder Street, near Independence Drive and Golf Course Road.
The tract is owned by Mr. Rhoden’s father’s company, Golf View Properties, LLC, formed in June 2005 just three days before Mayor Dopson, as president of Pineview Golf and Country Club, the property’s former owner, sold the 131 acres for $4.2 million.