Friday, December 15, 2017
News Roundup

Mobility fees still a work in progress in Hillsborough

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners are prepared to ask developers to pay more for the transportation solutions needed to support the growth they bring, but the details of just how much to charge are still being hammered out.

For many years, the county charged developers an impact fee based on location and type of development. Then the state changed to a process where counties would make the improvements and charge the developer for a proportional share of the new traffic created, which typically amounts to a fraction of the real cost.

Hillsborough has collected just $6 million from developers under proportional share since 2009. The county faces a $750 million backlog in road maintenance needs, and that will only increase as the area's population is expected to swell an additional 500,000 people in the next 20 years.

With transportation needs mounting, the county is looking for solutions. That's where mobility fees enter the equation.

These fees would be higher — potentially three to 10 times higher — than impact fees.

Hillsborough County staff has proposed an incentive program that would target projects that create quality jobs and encourage urban development.

The proposed system shares some similarities with Pasco County's approach — to which it's often compared — though it differs substantially as to which types of developments would receive discounts.

"Pasco has essentially said, 'Every type of development is important to us one way or another,'" Hillsborough economic development director Ron Barton said. "As such, they have chosen to discount all prices. What our board said is, 'jobs, jobs, jobs.'"

So while drive-through restaurants and dry cleaners earn discounts in Pasco County, Hillsborough commissioners were firm in their stance that only office space and industrial developments would earn incentives.

Instituting these fees is just one part of the ongoing discussion of how the county will pay for transportation — both a hefty backlog of maintenance and a wave of changes aimed at improving the system.

For the past year, county commissioners have discussed whether to put a half-cent sales tax for transportation on the November ballot. They're divided in their support. Some members think a decision first needs to be made regarding mobility fees before they vote on whether to ask citizens to approve another tax.

The fate of the new mobility fee structure is independent of the success of the voter referendum, known as Go Hillsborough. Whether or not the sales tax makes it to the ballot and is subsequently approved, commissioners agree something needs to be done to update the county's development strategy.

The impact fee structure was last updated in 1989. Change, commissioners say, is long overdue.

Even though mobility fees seem to have more broad-based support than a referendum, the potential income generated from the change is only a drop in the swelling bucket of transportation needs.

In the first 10 years, because of impact fee credits held by many developers, mobility fees are expected to generate about $10 million a year. After that, they should average $35 million a year, according to county staff.

In comparison, a half-cent sales tax is expected to bring in at least $117 million a year.

The county's pre-existing roads needs total $750 million — and that's without any transit, bike, pedestrian or new road projects.

"And that's a very critical part of this, that (mobility fees) won't be a significant source of revenue during the first 10 years," County Administrator Mike Merrill recently told commissioners. "Whatever the long-term funding source is, it has to be at that $120 million level for us to have meaningful, effective transportation growth."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.

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