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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Leesburg commissioners unanimous in slashing city’s building permit fees

In a move that’s likely to encourage future growth, Leesburg commissioners voted Monday night to drastically reduce the city’s building fee structure.

The plan calls for a 25-percent reduction in the fees and makes Leesburg one of the most affordable cities in Lake County for developers and builders.

Building fees for a new 2,500-square-foot home in Leesburg will be $1,031 under the new fee structure adopted by commissioners on Monday night.

The new fee structure won’t affect the houses and commercial businesses that will be built in The Villages portion of the city. That’s because a deal already was negotiated with Sumer County to handle all building permitting for the expected 2,800 homes and commercial buildings in the 1,127-acre Villages of West Lake, located north of County Road 470 near the Florida Turnpike.

Leesburg’s building fees were last raised in 2013 and have remained the same since that time.

“With the recent uptick in the economy, the Building Fund has seen a significant increase in cash,” a memo to commissioners from Deputy City Manager Michael Rankin and Finance Director Jim Williams said.

Under the new building permit fee structured adopted by Leesburg commissioners on Monday night, the city’s fees for a 2,500-square-foot home ($1,031) would be less than comparable charges in Fruitland Park ($1,384), Mount Dora ($1,850), Minneola ($2,066), Eustis ($2,434) and Tavares ($3,273).

As of September, the cash balance in the city’s building fund was a little more than $2.04 million. The city is required to maintain a reserve in that fund of $185,100, so that means it contains an excess of about $1.86 million – a portion of which commissioners agreed should be used to make much-needed upgrades to its building department, including the introduction of new technologies and electronic permitting, among other things.

Leesburg Commissioner Jay Hurley

The original proposal from staff called for a cut of 40 percent in the fees, but Commissioner Jay Hurley led the charge to reduce it to a 25 percent cut.

“That’s still substantial,” he said. “It allows us to replace a lot of the outdated stuff and move on into the technology era that we need to and fix other areas that may be broken.”

Hurley said that depending on how much money is left in the building fund after the department’s needs are met, future cuts could be possible. But he said he’d much rather take the route of a lesser reduction than to have to come back and raise the fee because the initial cut was too much.

“It’s easier to take cuts, cuts, cuts as you go down than to take the cut and go, ‘whoops, that’s too big,’ and now you’ve got to go back up,” he said. “If we cut it 25 percent, I think that’s strong.”

Mayor Dan Robuck III agreed.

“The worst thing we could do is to go down and have to come back up,” he said.

Commissioner Bob Bone agreed with Hurley on using some of the reserve fund to “beef up” the building department, but he said he’d still prefer to see the larger cut.

This chart, which was provided to Leesburg commissioners on Monday night, shows the significant increase in the city’s building permit fund from September 2016 to September 2018.

The reduction affects a wide variety of fees, ranging from administrative costs to permits (commercial, residential, sign, mobile home, trade, swimming pool and miscellaneous). The new fee structure, which is expected to be seen as a huge plus to area developers, builders and home buyers, goes into effect on Jan. 1.

The move to cut the building fees follows a trend that has seen the city gain significant revenue in the past two years. In September 2016, the building fee fund was sitting just under $1 million. But it had increased to more than $2 million just two years later, a graphic provided to commissioners showed.

Under the fee scale that was approved Monday night, Leesburg’s will be the second lowest among seven Lake County cities, which also includes Clermont, Fruitland Park, Mount Dora, Minneola, Eustis and Tavares. Only Clermont’s fees are lower.

A few examples of those differences include:

  • 2,500-square-foot house – Leesburg $1,031; Clermont $875; Fruitland Park $1,384; Mount Dora $1,850; Minneola $2,066; Eustis $2,434; and Tavares $3,273.
  • 5,000-square-foot restaurant – Leesburg $3,413; Clermont $2,500; Fruitland Park $4,937; Mount Dora $6,950; Minneola $7,650; Eustis $6,610 and Tavares $8,496.
  • 5,000-square-foot business – Leesburg $3,413; Clermont $2,500; Fruitland Park $4,954; Mount Dora $6,974; Minneola $7,677; Eustis $6,634; and Tavares $8,528.
  •  12,000-square-foot commercial space – Leesburg $8,190; Clermont $6,000; Fruitland Park $8,537; Mount Dora $11,958; Minneola $13,284; Eustis $11,610; and Tavares $14,755.
  •  5,000-square-foot daycare center – Leesburg $3,413; Clermont $2,500; Fruitland Park $4,995; Mount Dora $7,030; Minneola $7,740; Eustis $6,690 and Tavares $8,595.

The average fees for the seven cities and unincorporated Lake County, which has the lowest fees across the board, are:

  • 2,500-square-foot home: $$1,696;
  • 5,000-square-foot restaurant: $5,320;
  • 5,000-square-foot business: $5,335;
  • 12,000-square-foot commercial space: $9,892; and
  • 5,000-square-foot daycare center: $5,377.

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