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Collier County Manager Amy Patterson and Growth Management Department Head Jamie French discussed the future of the county’s 1-cent sales tax and attracting affordable housing developers to the county among others during the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce’s Wake Up Naples event Wednesday.

Nick Casalanguida, Barron Collier Cos.’ senior vice president, moderated the discussion. 

Patterson and French, both employees of the county for more than 20 years, shared their thoughts on the local sales tax that is sunsetting at the end of 2023 and how staff is working to find the best ways to combat the lack of workforce housing.  

The future of the local sales tax  

The county’s 1-cent sales tax, approved by voters in 2018, has been in place since Jan. 1, 2019, and put toward local infrastructure improvements. The agreement stated collection would end either at the end of seven years in 2026 or the year collections reached $490 million, which happened this year. 

Patterson said some priorities as to how to spend the money were established, including a new forensic and evidence building for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and a state veterans’ nursing home facility.  

Since the sales tax is sunsetting, the Board of County Commissioners must decide whether to add the reinstatement of the tax to the 2024 ballot.  

Patterson said reinstating the surtax would benefit the county. “I think the sales tax is an excellent tool, and it’s one that I personally would support,” she said. “Because with the next wave of infrastructure, we’re facing demands of transportation and stormwater, let alone with a lot of our public safety. And I think that this is a really good way to execute those programs.” 

Analyzing ways to spend the affordable housing surtax  

A $20 million portion of the surtax fund was placed in the county’s housing trust fund to support workforce housing projects. Although none of that money has been spent, county staff is analyzing options for where the funds could be used, Patterson said.  

“The tricky part was that it can only be spent on land,” she said. “So, this is an interesting wrinkle, particularly with some of the community projects, is that there’s an ownership component that has to lie with the county.” 

In addition to the challenge of available land for development becoming scarce, there are other criteria that need to be met, such as zoning conditions and purchasing where residents would be at high risk during natural disasters. 

“That criteria was developed and approved by our affordable housing committee and the board, and so now, we’re in the process of kind of looking at and evaluating various options for the use of that money,” Patterson said.  

She mentioned land the county has purchased with the potential for producing affordable housing projects, such as Golden Gate Golf Course and land holdings, such as the Oil Well and Camp Keais Road property.   

Attracting affordable housing developers to the county  

There are many factors developers must consider when creating a workforce housing complex, including maintenance and labor costs. It makes an area such as Collier County a difficult place to attract low-cost developers, French said.  

“I’m not pro-development, but I’m also not anti-development,” French said. “But the bottom line is that we take all of [the factors] into consideration as we look at these things and really get a good calculation on what new affordable and what new opportunities are out there as we work to bring these zoning considerations to the board.”  

In December 2022, the county’s Growth Management Department took over responsibilities for affordable housing policies from the Human Service Department. His staff is determining what affordable housing really means to the county while, at the same time, trying to redefine the term to attract more private developers.  

“We’re looking at what we can do based off of what a developer may want as far as density to be able to make those numbers work, so that we can accommodate all types of income levels and all types of families,” he said.  

French shared his perspective on how the Live Local Act, created by Florida Senate President and Naples resident Kathleen Passidomo, has impacted the county so far. Passidomo was in attendance at the chamber event.  

The Live Local Act allows multifamily and mixed-use residential development in commercial or mixed-use zones if at least 40% of residential units are designated for those making below 120% of the area’s average median income. Development commitments must be made for at least 30 years.  

French said since the development still must follow all design criteria of a residential multifamily development of 16 units per acre, the property must be large for it to be worth making part of it affordable. He said although there could be setbacks, investors are starting to speak up.  

“We’ve probably had, I want to say, no less than 50 meetings with interested investors,” French said. 

Finding the balance between what the state is allowing and what the local community desires to see in in its backyards is a challenge, Patterson said. Reducing the cost of construction could result in sacrificing local aesthetics.  

“We have a very beautiful community. We have a very high standard that we’re meeting through our land development code. If you start to take away from that with setbacks and some of the landscaping, is that what the community wants?” she asked. “I don’t know the answer to that, but that’s not for the state to solve. That’s actually for us to solve and find that balance between the two.” 

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