The city of Eustis is seeking to grow both its population and economic base with two new incentive programs approved by city commissioners earlier this month.
On April 5, commissioners enacted a one-year program to waive application fees usually charged for residents or business owners who want to annex property into the city. Qualifying land owners who participate would save $1,225 to $1,450 in application fees during the incentive period, to run through April 2019.
Commissioners also waived water and sewer impact fees for new development inside the city limits. The program, which is approved for one year or several, depending on the properties and type of development, would use water and sewer fund revenue to pay for the impact fees on new construction.
"Eustis' city administration and the City Commission are working together to put together a comprehensive package of business-friendly incentives and development processes to support development, redevelopment and private investment," Economic Development Director Tom Carrino told GrowthSpotter.
The annexation incentives are aimed primarily at unincorporated areas called "enclaves," which are surrounded by Eustis city limits. Eliminating those segregated islands would make the city's border regions more compact, leading to more efficient city services, said Lori Barnes, director of Development Services.
The city also hopes to persuade land owners whose properties abut the city limits, but are not surrounded by them, to also voluntarily annex into Eustis. Once in the city, the property owners could take advantage of city incentives and develop their property for industrial or commercial use.
"It could increase efficiency of public services, increase the city's land area and ad valorem tax revenue, and provide opportunities for Eustis citizens with this new development, whether it be industrial jobs or more shopping opportunities," Barnes said.
Eustis enacted a similar annexation program for one month in October 2013 and annexed 23 properties totaling 7.69 acres.
"The 2013 program was successful," Barnes said, "however we wanted to expand on the possibilities of the program" by offering it for a whole year. The fee waivers start May 1 and end April 30, 2019.
The city's Development Services Department intends to send notification letters to eligible county property owners. The letters will include an authorization form, a state of annexation benefits and a tax assessment comparison.
Some annexed property owners could see a decrease in their property tax, depending on the assessed taxable value of their property and exemptions. The city also is touting other benefits of annexation:
-- A 25 percent reduction in monthly water, sewer and reclaimed waste service rates;
-- Fire protection services from the ISO Class 2-rated Eustis Fire Department, which could possibly lower new residents' homeowners' insurance;
-- Police protection from the accredited Eustis Police Department;
-- Access to the Eustis Memorial Library and its services;
-- Participation in city parks and recreation programs;
-- The right to vote in city elections and qualify to serve on a volunteer board and/or the city commission.
Lake County commissioners have not taken a position on Eustis' latest annexation plan, said county public information officer Elisha Pappacoda. But last year, the commissioners voted unanimously against a proposal by Eustis to annex non-contiguous areas that had entered into inter-local service agreements for city water and sewer service. A dozen or so residents of those areas turned out at a commission meeting to show their opposition to annexation.
The recent incentives adopted by Eustis build on measures the city used in July 2016 to attract industrial property owners and developers.
First, they waived impact fees for connecting to city sewer, reducing connection costs by half for existing industrial businesses that expand and for new businesses moving in. The fee reductions were subject to conditions regarding the number of new hires at the business and the total investment in an expansion.
At the same time, the city streamlined its development approval process, reducing approval to two months compared to six or eight months for reviews of site plans and final engineering and construction plans.
So far, no industries have taken advantage of those incentives, though Carrino said the city is working with the Florida Food Products plant in Eustis on a wastewater impact fee waiver for future expansion.
Also in 2016, the city agreed to help market three downtown parcels that were left vacant when Florida Hospital Waterman moved out and tore down its aged building. The city held out the possibility of incentives for redevelopment of the 4.8 acres, including tax increment financing and impact fee credits.
Carrino said the city and the owners have received inquiries about the downtown parcels, but no offers.
"There is nothing under construction at this point, but we've had some interested parties," he said.