BROOKSVILLE A divided county commission board voted to retain the suspension of impact fees through Aug. 14, 2014, hoping the economy will improve and new-home ownership will be more affordable.
The discussion provided a tense moment when Commissioner Wayne Dukes took exception to his colleague Diane Rowden’s statement that he was influenced by so many homebuilders in attendance.
“If my colleague was implying that I voted because there is a crowd of builders here, I resent that,” Dukes said. “I expect an apology.”
He didn’t get one.
County commissioners suspended impact fees two years ago to try and boost the economy and even though data shows little improvement, the housing market is too fragile to heap yet another large fee on potential homeowners, Commissioners Jim Adkins, Dave Russell and Dukes said.
But Rowden called for the reinstatement of impact fees to preserve the integrity of future roads and infrastructure.
She agreed with others that roads are in fine shape now but they got that way through impact fees and who knows what they will be without a dedicated revenue source to keep them maintained.
“The need for infrastructure will not go away and we have to plan for the future,” Rowden said.
Rowden said if the commission chambers Tuesday had been filled with homeowners and not builders, there would likely be a unanimous outcry for the reinstatement of impact fees so residents don’t have to shoulder the cost of growth through taxes.
Dukes said the housing market is still depressed and any revenue from impact fees will be miniscule.
There will be a time when impact fees may need to be reinstated but not now, he said.
“I don’t think the government should be bankers for your money,” Dukes said.
Adkins said the economy is too fragile to reinstate impact fees and said the board could revisit the matter in August 2014.
County Commissioner Nick Nicholson said Hernando County’s growth rate, according to a consultant study, is 1.3 percent. The roads are in fine shape. The times do not reflect the need for impact fees, he said.
“At some point in time, maybe we will need the revenue,” Nicholson said. “But now is not the time to do this and I don’t know if it will ever be time to do this.”
However, Nicholson said he could not support the majority vote Tuesday because he didn’t want a set expiration date as part of the motion.
Russell said market conditions do not warrant impact fees. The board must keep new home construction as low as possible to compete with other counties, he said.
Local builders Tuesday appealed to commissioners to keep the suspension in place.
An impact fee is a one-time charge on new development to help pay for county roads, parks and other infrastructure.
Critics of the suspension argued the fees were a major source of revenue for road projects.
Assistant County Administrator for Planning & Development Ron Pianta said roads are in good shape today but must be kept up to prevent deterioration over time.
Pianta said some of the impact fee rates had been discounted by some 44 percent. For example, had it passed, the impact fee for a single family home would have been reduced from the former $3,627 to $2,537.
Resident Chuck Gordon said suspending impact fees is the county’s way of kicking the can down the road to others who will have to pay for growth.
“There was a reason for these fees to start with and the reason didn’t go away,” Gordon said.
Gordon said the argument that the continued suspension of fees will lead to jobs is secondary, he said.
“I’ve heard people talk about creating jobs but I haven’t heard one word about fiscal responsibility,” he said.
Builder Chris Glover, with Palmwood Construction, said builders are being painted as greedy and hoarding these fees when, in fact, they don’t keep any of the money.
Roger Giordano of Royal Highlands said he had to pay impact fees when he built his home and there is no reason why homeowners today should not follow suit.
“If we don’t have impact fees, you’re going to have to raise taxes,” Giordano said.
Bob Eaton, chairman of the government affairs committee for the Hernando Builders Association, said impact fees are really a tax on growth and was necessary back in 1986 when the county was experiencing rapid growth and needed money to pay for infrastructure improvements.
“Today, we don’t have that,” Eaton said. “Our infrastructure is in pretty good shape. Your road system in this county, you ought to be proud of.”
Perhaps in the future, impact fees will again be needed, but today, “there is no particular need,” he said.
The economy is still too depressed and another tax would set economic recovery back, he added.
“Let’s get the economy growing so our customers can afford to start paying impact fees again for growth,” Eaton said. “But we have to wait until we get there.”
Resident Jimmie Lodato said the county needs to explore other revenue-producing options and urged the board to suspend impact fees for one more year so the economy can improve.
“You won’t attract new business if you drop these huge impact fees on them before they get here,” he said.