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Hernando business group seeks way to spread out developers' big impact fees

BROOKSVILLE — Members of a Hernando County group trying to revive the local business climate are looking for ways to allow developers of commercial property to pay their huge impact fees over time.

The Business and Economic Development Committee has been looking for a way to make impact fees less painful, but some of their ideas have been shot down for various reasons.

Instead, the group decided on Tuesday to focus on finding a way to allow commercial and retail developers to make payments over time if their impact fees top $100,000.

Noting that such a process exists now in Highlands County, the committee asked county staff to look into it and bring details to their next meeting in August.

Other Florida counties surveyed also allowed for the fees to be paid over time. In Santa Rosa County, for example, the fees could be paid over time and were attached to the property tax bill.

That was an idea the committee had been interested in learning more about, but assistant county attorney Jeff Kirk concluded that impact fees could not be included in the tax bill.

"The fact that (Santa Rosa) hasn't been legally challenged doesn't mean that what they're doing is lawful,'' Kirk said.

The committee was also interested in exploring what it would mean to change the timing of payment of the fee from at the time of issuing the building permit to the time at the end of construction, when the county provides the certificate of occupancy.

But county staff from various departments recommended against making that change, zoning administrator Gary Fisher told the committee.

When the fees were tied to certificates of occupancy in the past, collecting the fees fell behind. At one point, nearly $1 million in fees hadn't been collected.

Continuing with the current system would mean that the fees are collected at the start of the process and there is no holdup to have people move into their structure when it is complete, explained Mike McHugh, the county's business development director.

He said the county's building official said that holding up the certificate of occupancy isn't possible once inspections are done. But committee member Richard Matassa said that there were some provisions in the zoning code that would allow the county to withhold a certificate of occupancy.

By delaying the payment of the fee, Matassa said, "There would not be a negative impact for the county but it would be a huge positive impact to the developer'' who doesn't have to come up with a large payment up front.

Committee chairman John Druzbick talked about allowing home buyers to build the cost into their mortgages and allowing the county to collect fees over a spaced-out period of time.

McHugh pointed out that if the payment contracts were approved for large developers, there wouldn't be much impact on the county to monitor such contracts. But if every single-family home was given that option, McHugh said current staffing levels would make the needed monitoring difficult.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando business group seeks way to spread out developers' big impact fees 06/16/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 8:07pm]
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