TARPON SPRINGS — Despite the housing market slump and stalled projects caused by a sagging economy, city commissioners are looking at raising impact fees for new development.
The city hasn't reviewed its impact fees since 1991. During that time, capital costs have risen about 75 percent, said consultant Mike Burton, who recently completed a fee study for the city.
Impact fees are levied against new development to defray the costs of equipment and infrastructure required to maintain the level of service provided to residents and businesses. A growing population, supported by new development, requires more park land, library facilities, police substations and so on, said Burton. Commercial developments pay impact fees for public safety and general governmental services. Residential developments pay those, but also fees for parks, recreation and libraries.
Under a proposed ordinance, fees for residential development will go up 72 percent, commercial will go up 58 percent.
Commissioners were given another option at their Tuesday meeting that would have spelled a greater increase for housing development — 219 percent — but unanimously agreed on the smaller hike.
"We should recover the cost to maintain our level of service and to be able to give the new developments the recreation and police and fire services they deserve," said Commissioner Chris Alahouzos. "At the same time, I don't want it to discourage development. I'd rather have it done in different phases to bring it up to the level it needs to be at."
Finance director Arie Walker said she didn't expect developers to be deterred by the new fees, which will bring the city in line with other municipalities.
"Because it's lagged so long, we're just bringing it up to where it should be. If there's going to be development, there's going to be development regardless if its an extra $1,000," she said.
Commissioners didn't point blame for why the fees hadn't been looked at for 17 years, but did express concern. Commissioner Susan Slattery said she was "amazed" at the time lapse and suggested the city schedule a review every three to five years.
Mayor Beverley Billiris said Wednesday that it was actually a stream of projects in the pipeline that triggered the review. Some of those, like a hotel planned near the Sponge Docks, have been delayed because of economic conditions.
"When you don't have a whole lot of growth going on in your city, you don't worry about impact fees," said Billiris. "The impetus to do this was when we started having a lot of proposed growth about to happen."
Billiris said the timing is right to implement the new fees before the economic forecast changes.
"We haven't missed the window of opportunity on this because as the economy turns, and it will turn ... these impact fees will be there for that development when it picks up," she said.
Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4162 or farlow@sptimes.