Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

PolitiFact | Florida

Hillsborough commissioner's building decline figure is off-base

Editor's note: Nearly a year ago, we launched PolitiFact.com, a fact-checking news Web site focused on the presidential campaign. Now we're expanding those efforts to local government.

TAMPA — Normally one who celebrates the free market, Hills­borough County Commissioner Jim Norman sounded like a Gloomy Gus during a June 19 budget hearing.

Things were so bad, Norman told his colleagues, that "there's no building, there's no construction, there's nothing going on." To back up this dour claim, he said development had dropped between "80 percent to 90 percent."

Norman had a point to make with his stat. Why not cut the county staff that reviews development applications by a commensurate percentage? After all, shouldn't the size of the county staff reflect "real world" conditions?

But just how real is Norman's figure?

When asked by PolitiFact where he got his percentages, Norman said he read it in a newspaper. He couldn't recall which one, but said it was in the last 30 days. During the budget workshop, Norman said he read a story that said Pasco County had a 98 percent drop in construction.

Did Norman base his Hillsborough figures on this article about Pasco?

Sort of.

Norman said he took the article and "backed it down to 80 percent" for Hillsborough. He said he felt comfortable making this calibration because of his experience following development as a commissioner.

But county figures don't support Norman's claim.

A comparison of construction permits issued in the first quarter of 2008 to the same period last year shows a total decline of 52 percent. Residential permits dropped 54 percent. Commercial permits fell by 27 percent. Bad? You bet. As bad as what Norman said? Not even close.

Apartment permits fell from 946 to 136 this year, a decline of about 86 percent. But Norman didn't say he was talking about only apartment construction. No other category matched that decline.

Maybe Norman was referring to the number of applications filed when developers want to change the county's growth plan to make way for a project.

In that case, the county saw a decline of about 22 percent.

Because he didn't explain what time frame he was talking about during the budget conference, maybe Norman was comparing 2008 to the boom years, not last year. If that's the case, then county figures come close to reflecting a drop of at least 80 percent. The county issued 74 percent more residential permits in 2005 and 76 percent more residential permits in 2006. But when asked by PolitiFact what time period he was comparing to 2008, Norman said he was referring to last year.

Later, however, an assistant, Ben Kelly, e-mailed figures from MetroStudy, a housing tracking and consulting company. These statistics showed housing starts, when developers actually begin the foundation of a home, since 2004. Even these figures show only a 43 percent drop to 2007.

Norman's claim is supported only when the first quarter of 2008 is compared with the second quarter of 2006 — the peak of the housing boom. Under this scenario, housing starts fall 83 percent when compared with 2008.

This comparison, Kelly said, was what Norman was referring to at the budget hearing.

At the June 19 meeting, Norman did ask the county staff to calculate more precise estimates of how much development has dropped. But he had already mentioned five times — over two separate meetings — that development was down 80 percent.

"If I'm wrong by 10 percent to 20 percent, then cut 50 to 60 percent (of the county staff), not 80," Norman told PolitiFact. "Whatever you can quantify, our construction is down. And my main point was, we shouldn't have staff do fluff jobs waiting for the market to come back."

While the premise of Norman's overall argument has merit, it doesn't help that county numbers don't reflect the figures he's quoting. Only a carefully selected housing start figure, dusted off from 2006 and representing the most extreme development period since 2004, supports his oft-repeated statement.

For this reason, we find his claim Barely True.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3402 or mvansickler@stpimes.com.

The statement

True"A construction market, housing and all sorts of real estate ... has dropped 80 percent to 90 percent." — Jim Norman, Hillsborough County commissioner, in a June 19 budget workshop

The ruling: Only a carefully selected figure representing the most extreme development period since 2004 supports Norman's statement.

Hillsborough commissioner's building decline figure is off-base 06/30/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2008 8:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. New DEP secretary says there's no conflict in political side businesses

    News

    TALLAHASSEE — When Noah Valenstein, the newly appointed head of the Department of Environmental Protection, was applying in April to be the state's top environmental regulator, he left one thing off the application: Companies he started and his wife runs have been paid nearly $1 million by politicians and lobbying …

     Noah Valenstein got the job as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday May 23rd, on a unanimous vote by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet. He will take the helm on June 5, with a salary of $150,000 per year. [Florida Governor's Office]
  2. Trump says 'we can use peace' during meeting with Pope Francis

    Religion

    VATICAN CITY — President Donald Trump and Pope Francis, two leaders with contrasting styles and differing worldviews, met at the Vatican City on Wednesday, setting aside their previous clashes to broadcast a tone of peace for an audience around the globe.

    Pope Francis meets with President Donald Trump on the occasion of their private audience, at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 24, 2017. [Associated Press]
  3. Pinellas construction licensing board looking for ways to fill financial hole

    Local Government

    LARGO — The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board's interim leader told the governing board Tuesday that the troubled agency is looking for ways to climb out of its

  4. Adam Putnam calls for special session on medical marijuana

    Blogs

    Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam wants state lawmakers to come back to Tallahassee in a special session to finish the work on medical marijuana that they started but didn't finish earlier this month.

    Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam is a candidate for governor in 2018.
  5. We Tried That: Working on a food truck for a day

    Cooking

    What we tried: It seems like everyone and their mother wants to open a food truck.

    Carlynn Crosby prepares food at the Empamamas food truck in the Cigar City Brewing parking lot in Tampa this month. For a variety of reasons, food trucking is not for the faint of heart.