Letter: Sales Tax Increase: The Untold Story

Impact fees are fees charged by Palm Beach County to developers and builders for their construction of future new residential and commercial buildings, as a result of which, the additional future population will require more roads to be built, as well as widening existing roads. The population’s growth, including children, will also require expanding existing schools and building new schools, together with other needed capital expenditures caused by development growth. It is this obvious impact caused by developers and builders that requires county government to charge and collect adequate impact fees for definite projected future needs.

As a result of inflation and increasing costs, then County Administrator Bob Weisman and county staff recommended proportionate increases in projected future impact fees every two years (from 2006 through 2012), which I strongly supported each time as a commissioner after asking Mr. Weisman, “When we need this additional impact fees for future roads, schools, infrastructure, etc., where will we get it?” Mr. Weisman’s response was always short and simple: “More taxes!” Unfortunately, my fellow commissioners repeatedly turned down the county administrator’s impact fee increase recommendation over an eight-year period, resulting in a $69 million shortfall in collected impact fees.

Our county commissioners have always been very generous with developers. During the same period above, several developers requested a price reduction on “transfer of development rights” (TDRs), which allows developers to build more homes on their land by paying the normal county price of $50,000 for each TDR. Several developers asked for a price reduction of 608 TDRs, which, at the normal price, would have required a total payment of almost $31 million to the county. “How much did my fellow commissioners sell the 608 TDRs?” Answer: $1 each, or a total of $608! Income from the sale of TDRs helps the costs of maintaining the over 30,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land that the county owns (costing approximately $7 million per year). If the developers don’t pay, who will pay? Of course, the taxpayers always pay.

We all know how generous our county commissioners have been the last few years — approving thousands of acres of agriculturally zoned land to build some 15,000 homes and millions of square feet of commercial/industrial buildings, increasing the value of developers’ land by hundreds of millions of dollars, even before construction starts! We also know that “development never pays for itself!” Once again, the taxpayers will end up paying a major portion of the cost of needed roads, infrastructure, services, etc.

Is the 1 percent increase in our sales tax just the beginning?

Jess Santamaria, Royal Palm Beach

Editor’s note: Mr. Santamaria served on the Palm Beach County Commission from 2006-14.