Thursday, June 19, 2014

Were You Charged Illegal Impact Fees?

Despite multiple attempts to get answers from City Hall, it is still unclear whether certain Belle Isle residents have been charged illegal impact fees over the past few years. The Sun's attempts to collect information about these impact fees date back over a year to April 24, 2013, when the following documents were requested:
  1. Any and all communications to or from any attorney or law firm paid by or retained by the City for any purpose from January 1, 2008 to the present.
  2. Any and all documents provided to or received from any attorney or law firm paid by or retained by the City for any purpose from January 1, 2008 to the present.
In response to this request, City Hall produced over 20 boxes of documents. A team of residents reviewed each of these boxes, but no recent attorney opinions regarding impact fees were discovered. So on April 14, 2014, a followup request asked for the following:
  1. Any and all letters, emails, legal opinions, and other communications or documents from City Attorney John Bennett regarding impact fees.
In response to the April 14, 2014, City Hall produced "a scanned legal file re: impact fees totaling 359 pages," and stated that this file completed City Hall's response to the April 14, 2014 records request. However, this impact fee legal file again failed to include the recent legal opinion regarding Belle Isle impact fees.

On May 5, 2014, City Hall responded to a third records request, which specifically sought a December 2010 letter from the City Attorney regarding impact fees. In response, a new document was produced by City Hall that was not provided with the 359 page impact fee file, nor in the numerous boxes of records reviewed in 2013.

The document finally produced by City Hall is a December 30, 2010 letter from City Attorney John Bennett to Commissioner Keith Severns (prior to Mr. Severns' resignation from the City Council so that he could be hired as City Manager). This three-page letter advised the City Council, Mayor and City Manager that our City Attorney has determined that "the impact fees passed by the City of Belle Isle are invalid."

This letter was sent to Commissioner Severns, copied to Mayor Brooks, and sent care of Belle Isle City Hall. Florida public records law requires that documents such as letter this be automatically recorded and preserved by our City government. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason that this legal opinion could or should have been omitted from City Hall's records, indicating that this specific document was withheld purposefully.

You can view copies of the records requests and the December 30, 2010 legal opinion linked below:

Records Requests for Impact Fee Letter

December 30, 2010 Letter re: Impact Fees

Since providing the December 30, 2010 legal opinion, City Hall has failed to respond to further requests for information about these impact fees. City officials provided no answers to questions regarding why the December 30, 2010 legal opinion was not produced with the attorney communications and impact fee files, nor any clue as to which Belle Isle residents are paying these invalid impact fees.

In fact, Mayor Brooks reminded all residents in attendance at the May 6 City Council meeting that while residents are welcome to make brief statements on the record at regular meetings, Belle Isle City officials will not answer resident questions in such a public setting. Similarly, there was no Council discussion of these impact fees at the May 28 workshop meeting nor were any answers provided in the recent Belle Isle Bulletin.

Have you been charged improper or illegal impact fees by the City of Belle Isle? Do you have any further information about these impact fees? If so, please contact the Belle Isle Sun at contact@belleislesun.org.

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