St Johns County v NE Florida Home Builders 583 So.2d 635 (Fla. 1991)
in 1987, St. Johns County, Florida, enacted a Land Development Regulation requiring • The payment of a public school impact fee • $381 for a single family home • $451 for a multi-family unit • $381 for a mobile home.
NE Florida Home Builders filed suit, alleging • The charge constituted constitutionally prohibited “tuition;” • That local governments were not authorized to deal with this issue since general law assigned responsibility to school boards; • That the legislature had preempted such actions by local governments; and • The “fee” did not meet the rational nexus test since homes without children were required to pay the “fee.”
Trial court held ordinance unconstitutional. Held that the “fee” was: • an unauthorized and therefore an unconstitutional tax, • violative of a “free system of public education,” and • he didn’t like it! • Fifth DCA affirmed but certified the question of authority to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court Holding • Can a constitutionally addressed facility such as Schools be funded by developer exactions – impact fees? • Yes. The availability of adequate schools is an issue of public health, safety and welfare and thus within the purview of a local government. • St Johns County had entered into agreements with the School Board and was not usurping that authority.
Would not impact fees for public schools be some type of “tuition” for public schools, that must, by law, be “free?” • No! Remember when the Dunedin court talked about those receiving the benefit? • Schools are not free! They cost money. But, the use of schools must be without charge. • Impact fees are charges, for which developers receive the “benefit” of adequate schools rather than “user charges,” and thus tuition. • Also, “[t]he use of impact fees has become an accepted method of paying for public improvements that must be constructed to serve new growth.
The Nexus! • St Johns County used a very simple method of calculation: • In St Johns County – • 17,198 Dwelling Units • 7,567 Kids In Public School • 0.44 School Children Per Unit • And, approximately one-half of St Johns County homes do not have a school child in residence! • Is 0.44 school kids per home a nexus?
Yes, it is a nexus. • The question is the impact on schools over the life of the structure rather than how many public school students might be in residence at any particular time – such as initial occupancy. • What if there will never be students in residence? See Volusia County v Aberdeen (760 So.2d 126, Fla.,2000). No kids, no fee.
The Impact Numbers The Average (0.44 over the life of the home)
The Court had a problem with the ordinance. • The School District is county-wide but St Johns County school impact fees were not collected in Saint Augustine. • Because St Augustine would benefit without paying, there was not the necessary substantial benefit. • “ . . .we hold that no impact fee may be collected under the ordinance until such time as substantially all of the population of St. Johns County is subject to the ordinance.”