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Hernando commissioner pushes a rival economic stimulus plan

BROOKSVILLE — County Commissioner Jeff Stabins has an idea for stimulating Hernando County's economy, and it doesn't involve cutting impact fees.

The County Commission on Tuesday will discuss a proposal by local builders and business leaders to reduce impact fees by 25 percent for the next 18 months. The action will give the county access to a onetime-only pot of $20-million for affordable housing initiatives.

Stabins says there is no need to cut impact fees to provide first-time homeowners the down payment assistance they need. Another $20-million in funding to accomplish that is already accessible to Hernando, but only eight residents tried for the funding last year.

Stabins wants that program to be better advertised and has invited a SunTrust Bank employee who works with the program to Tuesday's meeting.

During that discussion, he plans to pitch his idea to stimulate the economy by using the $1.8-million currently available through the State Housing Initiatives Program for qualifying low-income residents to fix up their homes using no-interest loans.

Calling his program the Housing Enhancement Loan Program, or HELP, Stabins sees the plan as a good way to put local tradespeople idled by the stagnant building market back to work.

Through the Property Appraiser's Office, Stabins has identified 120 Hernando properties with homes valued at $30,000 or less. His plan is to contact these homeowners and ask them if they are interested in seeking the loans.

The income qualification is $19,800 for a single person, half the median county salary. The cap per house for repairs is $35,000.

"It would not only help the people in these homes get them repaired, but it would help the neighborhood to look better, and it would put the carpenters, the tradesmen, the plasterers, the bricklayers back to work,'' Stabins said. "We could help people right away by having them do five or six homes a month.''

His plan is similar to one that is being touted by one of his opponents in the upcoming Aug. 26 Republican primary election.

Michael Burmann, who has been working as an inspector with the My Safe Florida Home program, has suggested using the SHIP funds or another source to improve the storm worthiness of Hernando homes.

Stabins said he hopes commissioners are willing to hear alternatives to cutting impact fees because the $1-million to $2-million loss in fees would hurt the county's efforts to keep up with its infrastructure needs.

He said his plan will accomplish the stimulus without hurting the county.

"The builders said they were looking for something symbolic,'' he said. "This is symbolic and then some.''

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

Hernando commissioner pushes a rival economic stimulus plan 08/02/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 4, 2008 2:53pm]
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