BROOKRIDGE — Impact fees.
No issue created a clearer divide among Hernando County Commission candidates as that one during Sunday's long and lightly attended political forum in the Brookridge community.
The split was predictable.
The Democratic candidates said they supported the fees, which are designed to help pay for the impact of growth on county services and schools. Republicans opposed the fees.
The issue has been in the news recently as the commission is trying to decide whether to suspend the fees for another year in order to help Hernando's ailing building industry. The moratorium is set to expire Nov. 15.
Hernando has lost an estimated $5.2 million in revenue during the three years the commission has either suspended or discounted the fees, according to the county.
In quick succession, Democrats Diane Rowden, Ramon Gutierrez and Arlene Glantz all said they supported reinstating the impact fees.
The Republican candidates went into a little more depth in their responses.
Nick Nicholson, who faces Glantz in the District 1 race, said he is against impact fees and would like to see the county come up with an alternative revenue source.
"Those people paying taxes, according to the county's own experts, are giving more money to the county in taxes than it requires to provide infrastructure for those people," Nicholson said. "We are actually making money on those people making houses today. We get excess revenue."
District 3 Republican candidate Jason Sager, whose opponent is Rowden, agreed.
"I do not support the 'Welcome to Hernando' fees," he said. "I think they're immoral."
The forum lasted roughly three hours and featured 14 candidates running for various offices. After giving four-minute stump speeches, the candidates fielded a number of questions from the audience of about 50.
Another topic that caused almost as sharp a divide among candidates: THE Bus, a key part of the county's public transportation system.
Independent District 1 commission candidate Joseph Swilley cited the high per-passenger cost of operating THE Bus.
"That's my tax money, he said. "I'm sorry. I cannot support that."
Gutierrez said he didn't understand why people are so worried about how much THE Bus costs the county when they are against impact fees.
"They gave away $5 million on impact fees. Five million," he said. "Who did that enrich? Not you all. Was that for the greedy? It definitely wasn't for the needy."
Rowden agreed that the county needs to continue to provide busing services.
"I think it has been fantastic for the people that have needed it in the county," she said. "I think we need to improve THE Bus."
Candidates were of like mind on some of the questions they took during the forum.
They all agreed that a parking garage is needed in downtown Brooksville, though there's no money for it. They also said they believe libraries need to stay open.
And over one anonymous question from the audience, they all seemed a bit confused:
"Received a call to vote 'no' on all amendments. Why?"
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.