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Hernando committee seeks impact fee relief for developers

BROOKSVILLE — As the county’s Business and Economic Development Committee got a primer on how impact fees work on Tuesday, the group concluded it would like to see the fees collected in a different way.

Now, builders pay the fee up front, when they pull the permit for the job. But the committee members said that puts an undue financial burden on builders. They might not complete the job or put an owner, or tenant, into the house for months.

The committee members suggested that the fee be paid when the building’s certificate of occupancy is issued, or put onto the owner’s property tax bill. “I don’t see why we can’t just withhold the C.O. (certificate of occupancy)” until the impact fee is paid, said committee member Nick Nicholson. “Developers at this point in time can’t come up with that kind of money (up front).”

The county used to collect impact fees upon occupancy, but there were significant accounting problems, such as people moving into the property and not paying the fee. An audit in 1992 showed that the county was ow ed nearly $1 million in unpaid fees, according to zoning administrator Gary Fisher. At that time, the auditor told the development department to “clean that up,” he said.

Just a couple of years later, the figure was down to $17,000 in unpaid fees. Last year, all of those fees finally were caught up, Fisher said.

“That shows how hard it is for you to collect those impact fees unless you do it at the time of permitting,” he said.

Committee member Laurie Pizzo asked if the fees could be put on the property tax bill. But assistant county attorney Jeff Kirk said that the only things the county can put on the property tax bill were things allowable by law, and impact fees are not on that list.

Committee Chairman John Druz­bick asked whether there were other safeguards the county could use to ensure that the fees were paid, such as holding up the certificate of occupancy or blocking an electrical connection to a building until the owner pays up.

Since temporary electricity is needed during construction, it would be hard to block the electrical connection, Fisher said. He said he would research the issue and again review the old audit to see what other options might be available.

The committee had asked county staff to see how other communities collect impact fees. Fisher reported that he had checked with both Volusia County and Hillsborough County. Neither was using a special collection system.

Committee members on Tuesday asked for a broader look at how other counties were handling the collection issue. Through a unanimous vote they asked for more information on how impact fees might be included on the property tax bill. Committee member Jim Adkins questioned whether the county’s existing impact fees complicate the job of Michael McHugh, the county’s business development director.

McHugh said that the county has existing incentives to provide some relief for impact fees if a company wants to locate in the county and meet the county’s performance standard for staying awhile and providing jobs. But there is no such incentive for speculative development because no jobs are tied to that up front, McHugh said.

At the committee’s request, McHugh said he would bring back more information on that kind of incentive. He said he would bring back all the information requested by the committee for further discussion.

“If were going to bring business industry in and diversify the workforce, we need to be creative,” Adkins said. “We have to look at any which way we can do it because time is of the essence.”

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

Hernando committee seeks impact fee relief for developers 05/19/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 9:35pm]
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