Taxpayers are about to get stiffed.
Why? Because developers want tax breaks.
And what developers want, Florida politicians usually give.
The problem for you is that, unlike Santa, politicians don't have a bottomless bag.
If they let a developer get away with not paying for a road that their new business needs, then someone else has to pay for that road. And that someone may be you.
For the latest on early Christmas gifts to developers, we go to Osceola County, which has proposed a one-year moratorium on an impact fees for commercial, residential and manufacturing projects.
According to county estimates, that means about $2.5 million less in county coffers next year — even though the need for much of that money will still exist.
Impact fees, after all, aren't some random money grab. They were specifically designed to help make growth pay for itself.
Take, for instance, the opening of a new store. If it generates more traffic — as any new store obviously hopes to do — then impact fees are supposed to pay for something like the extra turn lane that would be needed.
Without impact fees, the turn lane may still be needed. Only now, the general taxpayer in Osceola will foot the bill.
Even those pushing for the moratorium acknowledge as much.
"Yes, I concede that," said Mike Horner, a state House member who also serves as head of the Kissimmee/Osceola Chamber of Commerce.
I give Horner credit for more candor than many business advocates.
Horner's argument, however, is that it's more than worth it, By reducing impact fees, he contends the county will spur more growth and jobs.
For that to be true, we have to believe there are multitudes of businesses out there that wouldn't invest millions of dollars in a new business simply because of impact fees. We're talking business models that would supposedly fail with start-up costs of $3.1 million, for instance — but would thrive at $3 million.
Also, you have to wonder if the solution to a stalled economy, flush with a overdevelopment and depressed property values, is more development.
Still, even if you believe all that, there are ways to provide incentives that don't burden residents as much.
Instead of a moratorium on impact fees, local governments could delay the payments until the tough times are over.
Sure, Strip Centers Inc., you're welcome to build another plaza for all our cell-phone and dollar-store needs. And we'll even give you a few years to get up and running before collecting our fees.
But we will collect then — because we don't think it's fair for residents who live 20 miles away from your nail salons and dry cleaners to pay for the new cluster of stoplights your project requires.
Horner's other argument is that Osceola's fees are too high — more than twice as high as some of Orange County's, for example.
Fair enough. So fix that. Adjust them downward. Make them more in line with others. But don't axe them all together, even temporarily.
Why shave your head when all you need is a trim?
Most concerning about all this is that Osceola is part of a growing trend.
Osceola started talking about knocking down impact fees after Kissimmee, which did so after Polk County.
Pretty soon, we'll have governments all over Central Florida trying to move the cost of growth back onto the average taxpayer — where it was for decades, until smart-growth champions properly changed the system back in the late 90s.
Because the bottom line is that growth comes with a price.
Every local government that instituted impact fees in the first place — including Osceola — acknowledged as much when they did so.
The question is simply whether you want the businesses that profit from that growth to pay for the demands they create — or whether you want average taxpayers to shoulder the burden.
Scott Maxwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-6141.