BROOKSVILLE — In the three years since the Hernando County Commission has suspended or discounted impact fees in an attempt to jump-start the stagnant building industry, it has lost $5.2 million in revenue.
As commissioners prepare to decide whether to keep the fees at zero for another year, as one builder suggested during Tuesday's commission meeting, other taxpayers asked why they have had to foot the bill for county spending while commissioners continue to subsidize the influential building and development industry.
The moratorium on impact fees ends Nov. 15 if the commission takes no action. On Tuesday, county staffers updated commissioners on their efforts in advance of that deadline.
Commissioners ultimately took no action other than to agree to a request by school superintendent Bryan Blavatt for a joint meeting of the County Commission and the School Board to discuss impact fees. That meeting is slated for 9 a.m. Oct. 31.
Impact fees are levied on new construction. They are designed to pay for the impact of growth on the county services and schools and must be based on the actual cost of that impact.
Since the fees charged most recently were established in 2005, a new schedule based on current costs and needs would have to be determined to make the fees justifiable, Ron Pianta, the county's land services director, explained to commissioners.
He proposed a new set of fees that would include fees for parks, libraries and law enforcement, among others. Missing from the schedule were transportation and school fees.
Pianta explained that the county impact fee consultant is still working on the transportation fees. He expects the report to be completed in 60 to 90 days. The education fee is the responsibility of the school district, and school officials have not yet done a study.
Commissioner Dave Russell said it was fine that the school district wants to talk to the county about re-establishing impact fees, but "unless we have these studies, we have nothing to move forward on.''
Commissioners also talked about the possibility of phasing in the fees, and Pianta proposed several other changes in the process, including lengthening the time between reviews of the fees from once every two years to once every five years.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins asked whether there was any evidence that suspending the fees has stimulated growth in the building industry.
Pianta said that the building permit history since 2009 shows the number of permits pulled for single-family homes has been stable, with an average of 10 to 15 permits per month. On the commercial end, he said, there have been some signs that eliminating the fees has allowed some projects to move forward.
"It's so hard to track and to know exactly what the effect is,'' said builder Bob Eaton of Artistic Homes.
What Eaton could say is that the elimination of the fees "is helpful'' and that, without the reductions, the county's situation likely would be even worse.
Eaton said the state of the building industry remains bleak, and he urged the county to extend the moratorium on impact fees another year to see if the economy improves nationally and then "hopefully it will trickle down to our community.''
Former Planning and Zoning Commission member Anthony Palmieri said the county is no better off than it was before the fee reductions and then the suspension, and that county coffers lost more than $5 million because of the request by the builders.
Brooksville resident Richard Ross expressed anger that the county waited so long to begin looking at a new fee structure for the coming year. He called it ridiculous and accused commissioners of bowing to the builders and developers, who he said had run the county for 20 years and "controlled this board like a bunch of puppets.''
"We're trying to coddle an industry that has put us in the toilet,'' Ross said.
Resident Chuck Gordon said he thought that impact fees "have been made into a political football.''
Spring Hill resident Anne Kraus-Keenan said she didn't believe the commission should be forcing taxpayers to pay in order to help guarantee jobs for builders. Instead, county commissioners need to be working to be bring more and different types of business to Hernando.
"Stop enabling the construction industry,'' she said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.