NEW PORT RICHEY — For 25 years, Pasco and other Florida counties have sought to pay for new roads primarily with assessments on construction — so-called impact fees.
In a new approach discussed on Wednesday at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting, county leaders indicated every property owner might have to share that cost through a new assessment and higher gasoline taxes.
New construction would still have to pay a fee — now dubbed a "mobility fee" — that will be cheaper than the current impact fees. Builders have traditionally fought impact fees, claiming they hinder sales.
The proposed mobility fee, which would cost each property tax payer an extra $50 a year, would enable county officials to charge lower fees to new development for transportation projects. Gas taxes would go up by 5 cents a gallon.
The fee schedule would give breaks to industries and offices that locate in the county's denser west and south areas. Residential and retail development would receive no discounts, though they would pay less than they do under the county's current system of impact fees. The only exception would be the northern area, which officials want to remain rural.
Development that improves public transportation would pay no fee in the county's south and west areas.
"We're in a whole new world from where you were," said James Edwards, director of the MPO. The group, which got its first look at the proposal during a workshop, includes the county's five commissioners and mayors of the major cities. No action was taken, and the proposal will be discussed by the County Commission and most likely sent back to the MPO for changes. The county's current impact fees are set to expire in 2012.
Unlike the boom times, when revenues simply couldn't keep up with growth, slower growth will offer the opportunity "to catch up some," Edwards said. The change from impact fees to mobility fees resulted from the passage of Senate Bill 360, which relaxed development rules. The law was declared unconstitutional, but governments expect the Legislature to make fixes.
Supporters say the mobility proposal would lower transportation fees, which are the highest in the region, and help attract higher-paying jobs and put Pasco on more equal footing with larger counties.
It also would enable the county to steer development toward areas set aside for dense growth and discourage it from rural areas, where fees would be higher. Gas taxes and an annual fee also would spread the financial burden more evenly across the county. Impact fees are levied only on new construction and can't be used to pay for operations and maintenance, forcing governments to look for additional money to cover those costs.
"We've hamstrung ourselves," said Port Richey Mayor Richard Rober. "I support a move that spreads the burden as evenly as possible."
In addition to roads, the fees could also be spent on public transportation.
"It's not just a roadway fee," Edwards said.
County Commissioner Michael Cox, who soon will give up his seat to Henry Wilson Jr., urged members to support the new fee structure, saying "today we'll see who's a leader and who's a politician."
"We've danced around the problem — not paying for impact as it occurs," he said. "We collect in today's dollars and hope to build a project down the road. Sooner or later we have to wake up and say we have to find a better way of doing something. I challenge all of you to step up and do some leadership. That's the only way you're going to make this stuff happen."
County Commissioner Jack Mariano fretted that not giving discounts to retail development might hamper efforts to redevelop the U.S. 19 corridor.
"I just don't want to put any deterrent on anybody coming in business," Mariano said. "We need to get people into those buildings. I don't care if it's retail."
But Cox said retail will inevitably happen where there's growth and disposable income.
The key, he said, is increasing income through attracting industries that offer more than the minimum wage of most retail.
"If you relax the landscape buffer rule so McDonald's can come in, you're going to get more $7.25-an-hour jobs. Whoopee. I hate to be that cold about it, but reality is what reality is."
Developers in the audience praised the proposal.
"I'm very much encouraged by where we're heading on this," land use attorney Clarke Hobby said. "(Development fees) have to be reasonable at the end of the day."
Stew Gibbons, the local head of the development company that owns Connerton, agreed.
"With impact fees, the pendulum had swung too far."