Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

Justifications for extension of impact fee moratorium don't add up

The uncertainty of the upcoming sales tax referendum was one excuse Nick Nicholson gave to put off — again — charging builders their fair share for new construction.

We won't know how much we need in impact fees, Nicholson told his fellow Hernando County commissioners Tuesday, until we know whether voters will agree in November to add a penny of tax per dollar to their purchases.

Relax, Nick. You don't have to worry.

With the kind of mindless policy that you recommended — and that all of the other commissioners except Diane Rowden supported — there won't be any messy sales tax revenue to complicate matters.

There won't be the $80 million the county wants for unclogging intersections or ensuring that kids can walk to school without getting mowed down by motorists.

There won't be another $80 million over the next decade that educators desperately need to maintain crumbling schools and upgrade old technology.

That's because taxpayers will inevitably ask themselves a simple question:

Why should we pay more when the builders don't have to pay what they already owe?

Or, phrased another way, why should we fund a handout to builders that comes to nearly $13,000 for every new home?

Yes, it really is that much. And as an added kick in the shins to taxpayers, we paid the consultants who calculated that sum: New homes, on average, require about $7,000 worth of space in schools and put a $5,767 impact on roads.

Not that the commission was actually considering charging all of that. Of course not. It currently levies only much smaller fees for facilities such as libraries and parks and hasn't required builders to pay their full fare since 2009.

No, the county, which in February passed on charging builders for schools, was set to start charging 44 percent of the recommended road fee, or $2,537 per new home.

That amount was picked by this same 4-1 majority last year mostly because it seemed politically palatable at the time.

Not any more. Persuaded by the likes of Bob Eaton — long the local builders' whiner-in-chief — the commission extended the moratorium in charging transportation impact fees until at least next June. And I say "at least" because, given the commission's track record, it seems likely they will simply vote to extend it again.

No doubt Eaton will be back to argue that the county must wait until the poor builders, who would really love to contribute, he said, can afford to do so — wait until new housing starts reach a "reasonable" level, which, he said after the meeting, would be about 1,000 per year.

And he will no doubt argue again, as he did on Tuesday, that a relatively vibrant building industry is key to a full recovery in Hernando.

But, wait, isn't home construction supposed to follow other economic development, not lead it? And wasn't that supposed to be the main lesson that commissioners learned from the housing bust?

Yes, but as is obvious from several of this commission's votes, the lesson didn't sink in. This gift to builders comes at the expense of the quality schools and infrastructure needed to attract more substantial industry.

It's getting to be a big gift, by the way, as the building business starts to show signs of life. The 205 permits for single-family homes in the first seven months of this year represent $2.6 million in lost transportation and school fees — revenue you will be asked to make up for in November.

That's right. This gift also comes at the expense of you, the taxpayer. And it would be natural for you to express your resentment with a "no" vote in November.

But don't, please.

The county really needs the money. And the schools, whose share would just be an extension of the district's current half-cent sales tax, need it even more.

No, take it out on the commissioners at the helm of this fogbound ship.

David Russell, whose vote was especially disappointing because he actually knows better, has unfortunately deprived us that privilege by announcing that he won't run for re-election.

That leaves Wayne Dukes, who has cast a series of votes that do more for people who make contributions than those of us who merely cast votes.

A vote against Dukes would be a good reminder of another lesson commissioners seem to have forgotten: This is not the way things are supposed to work.

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