BROOKSVILLE — Though the number of single-family home permits has slid since the county slashed impact fees in 2009, county commissioners said this week that now is not the time to raise them again.
In fact, they said, it might be time to lower them further — or even eliminate them.
The commission will discuss the issue during a workshop at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the commission chambers of the Hernando County Government Center.
Impact fees are the one-time levy on new construction to help offset some of the costs of expanding infrastructure — such as roads, libraries and parks — to keep up with growth. In 2009, with the building industry in crisis, the commission voted to roll the rates back to 2001 levels for residential and commercial construction, in hopes of giving builders a boost.
That decreased the fee for a single-family home, for example, from approximately $9,200 to $4,900.
The action was only for a year, but last year the commission agreed to a second year of lower fees. Now those are due to expire at the end of November.
Single-family home permit numbers have actually declined since the reduction. During the peak of the building boom in 2005, there were 4,185 single-family home permits pulled in the county. By 2009, when the commission acted to lower fees, there were just 149 permits.
Measuring just from January to September in 2010, that number was 134. From January though September 2011, it was 89.
"Whether they're helping or not, we can't go back,'' said Commissioner Jeff Stabins during a discussion of the issue at Tuesday's commission meeting. "Economic activity is so stagnant, we've got to extend (the reductions), I think.''
Commission Dave Russell agreed, noting that builders are struggling enough already and raising impact fees would only compound the problem.
"We're facing an extraordinary set of circumstances,'' Russell said, noting that with the down economy and issues with sinkholes, "all these things are coming together.'' And in some cases, he said, it's driving people out of the county.
Besides, "it's not like we're giving a heck of a lot (of revenue) away, folks,'' Russell said.
With the decline in construction, the annual collection of impact fee dollars has declined dramatically.
Measuring just from December through September, in 2008-09, the county collected $3.45 million in fees. The next year, that dropped to $896,000 for the same time frame. In 2010-11, the figure was $654,000.
Commission Chairman Jim Adkins said he could live with even lower impact fees — or none at all — in the current environment.
Stabins said he wanted to know details about what other counties are doing and how many had no impact fees at all.
Several builders urged commissioners to keep the lower fees, saying they have helped.
Mark Alexander of Alexander Custom Homes said the his company has two jobs currently and that "the impact fee reduction was instrumental'' in landing that work.
Building homes has a wide-reaching impact because the work produces other revenue, from sales tax to payroll taxes, said Bob Eaton of Artistic Homes.
"The bigger picture is that we need to stimulate the economy,'' said Barry Burich of Dream Custom Homes.
New homes in a neighborhood help to raise the value of existing homes, said Matt Burich of the same company.
"We need to have some dirt moving and some hammers flying,'' he said.
Several residents spoke out against the lower fees, asking whether taxpayers would now be forced to pay for the consequences of growth.
Anthony Palmieri wanted to know how the commissioners would pay for future infrastructure if not through impact fees.
"How much have we lost?'' he asked.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.