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Fee ruling is small change in Citrus

A court ruling exempting seniors-only homes from school impact fees affects few homes and means little to county finances.

By BRIDGET HALL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 2000


INVERNESS -- Residents moving into certain age-restricted communities won't have to pay school impact fees anymore, thanks to a Florida Supreme Court ruling issued Thursday.

The court ruled that, when there is no possibility of school-age children ever living in a home, counties have no basis for charging the homeowner an impact fee that goes toward expanding schools.

Because Citrus County's school impact fee is so small -- $135 from each new home -- and few seniors live in such communities, officials say the ruling will have little effect here.

The court's decision applies only to neighborhoods that have legal restrictions barring children from living there. Citrus has about 15 such communities, and most of them have no room for any new homes that would be exempt from the fee, said Carl Bertoch, a Crystal River lawyer who represents several age-restricted developments.

Technically, the court ruling allows homeowners in age-restricted communities to sue the county to recover the fee if they already paid it.

"Why would you fool around with that?" Bertoch asked, noting that the homeowner would only recover $135.

The exemption does not apply outside of the age-restricted communities. In most neighborhoods, an elderly couple with no children could someday sell their home to a family that does.

"Look at Beverly Hills," attorney Clark Stillwell said. "It was planned as a retirement community, and now these are starter homes for young couples with children."

The court's ruling will have little economic impact here. The county collects about $220,000 a year from the school impact fees, and age-restricted residents contribute a small share of that, said Gary Maidhof, director of the county's Department of Development Services.

But the court's ruling could open the door to challenges to other kinds of impact fees, which are one-time taxes on new buildings. The fees help pay for infrastructure.

Bertoch said some surveys have shown that senior citizens use roads and public parks less than the rest of the population. If that is true, he said, the county may have to consider charging smaller transportation and recreation impact fees for seniors-only housing.

"(Some seniors) don't think they should be paying full recreational impact fees because they're not going out there and using baseball fields," Stillwell said.

Citrus officials have been re-evaluating the county's decade-old impact fee schedule for six months. Commissioners decided in April to conduct a second round of studies to make sure the impact fee rates are fair and defensible.

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