BROOKSVILLE — The County Commission was poised on Tuesday to discuss a plan to slice impact fees so Hernando County could qualify for a piece of a one-time-only $20-million statewide fund to provide low-income housing assistance.
But that debate quickly veered into a wide array of economic stimulus programs. Finally, the commissioners put off the impact fee talk until Aug. 5, when other ideas for juicing the local economy will be offered and when the board will hear from an expert on the county's economic outlook.
A number of business-related groups — the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, the Hernando Builders Association, the Hernando County Board of Realtors and Hernando Progress — all asked the board to delay the impact fee talk.
Some of their members were also offended by remarks Commissioner Diane Rowden made in a massive e-mail to constituents on Monday urging them to attend the meeting to oppose the impact fee cuts.
Dudley Hampton Jr., president of the builders association, said the commissioner painted builders as "greedy'' and "carpetbaggers.'' He said the business community was pushing the impact fee idea because the county needs some sort of economic stimulus.
He said that if trying to keep his subcontractors working and paying their bills, selling off some of the county's surplus homes and getting new permits going is greedy, "then I'm guilty as charged.''
Rowden, the sole vote against delaying the impact fee discussion, said in her e-mail that cutting impact fees would only help builders and developers, and that taxpayers would have to make up for the lost income.
Builder Bob Eaton also took offense at Rowden's e-mail, pointing out that he was a part of Hernando County, living in the area for 30 years and raising his children here. He said he wanted commissioners to have the correct information to make their decisions on impact fees.
He said that information provided previously by county staff was not completely accurate. Eaton also questioned why staff gave its opinion on the idea when it was a County Commission policy decision.
Area business owner Anna Liisa Covell said she didn't care whether the commission helped the economy either by dropping property taxes or lowering impact fees, which are one-time charges on new construction, to help offset the increased impacts on government services.
"We need to put people back to work in Hernando County,'' she said. "We need a plan to do it.''
Others said more effort is needed to diversify the county's employment base and to push for jobs in different industries.
Resident Robert Monk argued that the county needed more jobs, not more homes, and he didn't believe a segment of the population should get special favors when others didn't.
"I'm not a business person. Do I get a break?'' he asked.
Brooksville resident Richard Ross urged the commission not to lower impact fees. He called the plan "special treatment to an industry that has self-destructed.''
He said the county would be better off giving a property tax break to encourage affordable housing rather than an impact fee cut to help generate more house construction in a market already flooded with houses no one is buying.
"Houses will not save this county,'' Ross said. "Building more houses in this county is ridiculous.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.