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Hernando considering residential, commercial, industrial impact fee cuts

BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners next month will consider cutting not just residential impact fees but the fees for commercial and industrial construction as well.

A public hearing will be held Nov. 10 on the reductions, which are seen by some in the building industry as a way to help the struggling economy. The fees are one-time costs imposed on building owners to offset the costs of government services that new construction brings.

County staff brought the proposal up again at Tuesday's board meeting to clarify what commissioners wanted in the proposed ordinance, which could slash impact fees roughly in half, or back to 2001 levels.

For a home that would now be charged a $9,200 fee, the reduction would bring the figure down to $4,800.

Hernando County would lose about $600,000 a year if residential impact fees were slashed that much. If the commercial and industrial fees are cut to 2001 levels, the county would lose an estimated $1 million to $2 million, officials said.

Local builders have been urging the board to drop fees altogether for new homes, saying it would sway people who are thinking about building and would put local tradespeople back to work.

The board agreed unanimously to craft an ordinance that would lower impact fees for residential, commercial and industrial construction to 2001 levels for 12 months.

The ordinance also would allow the fees to be paid when the building's certificate of occupancy is issued rather than when the building permit is pulled, as is the current practice.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins tried to persuade commissioners that instead of cutting impact fees, they should expand the HELP home renovation program he started last year. HELP uses loans to fix houses of very-low income residents and, to date, more than $1 million of a $1.8 million allocation for the program has been spent.

Stabins wants an expansion that would let Hernando demolish homes and rebuild them with loans or other state or federal money that he did not identify.

Several commissioners, however, balked when he suggested taking $600,000 out of reserves to fund the program. The county is already taking $3 million per year for three years from reserves to stave off the affects of revenue shortages that have led to millions in county budget cutting.

Stabins argued the program would also put people to work, it would fix up declining neighborhoods, help builders who build more high-end homes than the original HELP program and would assist realtors in moving homes off the market.

Bob Eaton, representing Hernando builders argued that, while the HELP plan was good, it wouldn't provide enough assistance for the depressed building business.

"It's just not enough to get people back to work,'' he said.

Local resident Janey Baldwin asked why the builders were always looking for help and expressed concern that taxpayers would pay more. If impact fees were cut "our infrastructure suffers,'' she said.

Another local resident, Anthony Palmieri, took it a step further. He said the talk in the community is that if commissioners lower impact fees, it is a nod to builders who have helped finance commissioners' campaigns.

"They are now calling in their chips,'' Palmieri said.

Commissioner Jim Adkins said the commission needs to think about their action not so much as reducing impact fees but rather adjusting them. If the county is operating at 2001 revenue levels, then that's where fees should be, he reasoned.

The county is seeing lower costs on everything and so the impact is less on the community, said Commissioner Rose Rocco.

Commission Chairman David Russell said that, while the county may lose money if impact fees are cut, Hernando has also been the recipient of more than $12 million in federal road stimulus monies and other grants.

Russell supported a cut in the commercial fees as well and business development director Michael McHugh said that reducing the fees might help some companies to move here.

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

Hernando considering residential, commercial, industrial impact fee cuts 10/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 8:15pm]
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