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Hernando County builders pitch plan to assist home buyers

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County should take advantage of a special state fund that helps first-time, income-eligible home buyers, the Hernando Builders Association urged the County Commission on Tuesday.

But there is a catch: The county either would have to dial back or eliminate impact fees drastically for more than a year to get a piece of the $20-million the state has earmarked for affordable housing.

Incoming Builders Association president Jeff West told the commissioners the county would benefit in two ways. Not only would dropping the impact fees jump start the home-building industry, it would also help more people get into their first homes, he said. He urged a public hearing.

Several commissioners expressed interest in the idea and asked staff to gather more details so that a further discussion can happen at the next regular commission meeting June 17.

They were concerned that they might have to act by the end of June to be eligible for the money. So far, only one other Florida county, Charlotte, has qualified for the fund.

State Rep. Gary Aubuchon, a Republican from Cape Coral, sponsored a bill that first proposed the idea. The bill failed, but the language providing the $20-million fund has survived as a line item in the state budget. Gov. Charlie Crist has yet to announce his line-item budget vetoes.

Aubuchon, a real estate broker and builder, said Tuesday his hope is that the fund puts home buying in reach for more people, who could draw on the inventory of homes for sale around the state.

Reducing or eliminating impact fees would get builders busy again, he said. "We would actually inspire new construction activity which would very much stimulate the economy,'' he said.

To qualify for a share of the $20-million, counties must reduce their overall impact fees by at least 25 percent for at least 18 months, or they can eliminate residential impact fees for at least 18 months Aubuchon explained.

The amount the county collects in impact fees fluctuates with the number of new homes built each year. Any reduction in impact fees, however, would likely cost Hernando County millions of dollars.

The county's 2008 spending plan, for instance, budgets for the availability of more than $25-million in impact fees, to be used to build roads, schools and public buildings, among other purposes.

In other action:

• Commissioners asked staff to set up a meeting in the Brookridge community to talk about Progress Energy's proposal to bring new power lines nearby in the existing utility line corridor. They have been contacted by concerned members of the neighborhood seeking answers.

Commissioners said they want to bring Progress Energy officials and state officials together to talk to residents about concerns. County Administrator David Hamilton also said the local legislative delegation and the governor would also be invited.

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

Hernando County builders pitch plan to assist home buyers 06/03/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 4, 2008 4:26pm]
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