Katara Simmons/News-Sun A new house is under construction along Lakewood Road in Sebring, but the number of overall building permits is still very low, despite the continued suspension of impact fees.
published: Sunday, August 11, 2013
Lack of impact fees has lack of impact
By BARRY FOSTER
SEBRING - Highlands County Property Appraiser Raymond McIntyre has estimated that local property values for the current fiscal year will be down nearly 3 percent.
While he held out hope that the declines could level off later this year or next, figures released by the Highlands County Building Department are showing that new construction may not be a factor if and when there is a recovery.
Indeed, building has steadily declined in Highlands County over the past several years, despite the ongoing suspension of impact fees. In an appearance before county commissioners this past June, while discussing whether or not to extend the moratorium on impact fees, County Engineer Ramone Gavarette said it is possible that the county will not even register as many building permits this year as they had in the previous fiscal year.
"We are on track to match last year, but we most likely won't," he said at the time. "It does not appear that the suspension of the fees has had the desired effect."
Gavarette's numbers indicated that during the 2012-13 fiscal year, the county building department issued only 58 permits with a construction value of $281.859. That wasn't quite as much as the 2011-12 fiscal year, when the building department issued 61 building permits. Those went out at an estimated construction value of $440,761.
In fact, despite assurances that it was the county's impact fees that had stifled growth locally, building permits have trended steadily downward since 2009 when the impact fees first were lifted. In that year, 129 permits were issued. Construction at the time was estimated at more than $1.4 million.
Nevertheless, all those numbers pale in comparison to the height of the building boom in 2006 when there were more than 1,150 permits pulled.
Gavarette said the answer to the decline has been the state of the economy.
"We have meetings with developers - they come and meet with us then they hardly ever come back," he said.
District 3 Highlands County Commissioner Ron Handley, himself a contractor, echoed those feelings.
"If you look at the permits, they haven't increased at all yet," he said. "I am hoping that when our winter friends get back it will improve. If it truly is better in other areas in the country like you keep reading about in the papers, hopefully this winter will be the turning point for us."
Handley tried to spur some interest in the industry by trying to organize a parade of homes, but to date has gotten no response to his letter.
"There's not much positive out there; I can see that," he said.
Compounding the problem is the ability for contractors to find help.
"A lot of our subcontractors have gone broke or left the area," he said. "The one guy I used for stucco has gone to Texas."
Currently, contractors have had to be content with remodeling, upgrades or additions to current homes.
Handley said one problem has been finding young people with families to move here or stay here.
"Unless you're in the health services business, there's just not a lot to draw young people here," he said.
While some restaurants and other businesses have recently remodeled their buildings, others have closed - some for several weeks - during the summer doldrums. Owners have said it simply is more economical to shut their doors until some of the local residents come back from their vacations and northern residents return to their winter homes for "the season."
Many have looked to the Highlands County Economic Development Commission/Industrial Development Authority or even the Highlands County Tourist Development Commission to draw businesses in to the area.
Stephen Weeks, executive director for the IDA/EDC, has announced the group is in negotiations with a chain restaurant, but has not indicated what company that might be or exactly where it might locate.
Gavarette revealed a local discount chain has been scoping out locations to build a couple more small stores in the county. One site could be south of Lake Placid with the other one possibly going in north of Avon Park..
"They are not in the city limits because they are coming through us," he said.
(by: Blindman~ - 8/16/2013)
Are some people so lowly in spirit that they need continual external stimulus and entertainment to be happy? And will they ever be satisfied?
Sad but true (by: Justme33 - 8/14/2013)
I recently moved out of Highlands County due to a few reasons. One being how antiquated, as a whole, the county is. Some people in the community are so afraid of stepping out of the box and changing things to bring people into the community. When I lived in Sebring my out of town friends joked that people come to H.C. to die, I'd laugh them off. But now as I read all these articles and after a recent visit with my family back home, I can say I totally agree with them.
Good reporting (by: Ed Baldridge - 8/13/2013)
Good, informative reporting. Way to go.
Sebring (by: Terry - 8/13/2013)
Sebring is a place that you can spend a whole week . . . . in one day.
(by: Blindman~ - 8/13/2013)
There is no "impact" at this time, therefore; there should be no "fees".
Highlands County (by: James Solazo - 8/12/2013)
This is a sleepy retirement community just as it was intended when it was founded four generations ago. There really isn't much going on here now, nor will there be much going on in the near future.
Ya Think! (by: Obvious - 8/11/2013)
Look around this county! Its as gloomy as most of the residents. Its a dead end. Smart thinking on the part of the people that got out while they still could!
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