Sooner or later, we will have to do what should have been done in the first place. It is time for Hernando County to face its sinkhole problem head-on and establish policies that will provide growth and prosperity.
First, the county must establish a sub-soil testing program that identifies potential sink-holes. This wasn't easy 30 or 40 years ago. Reliable detection technology was either nonexistent or prohibitively expensive. No longer. It is possible, at reasonable cost, to identify land that is unsuitable for construction due to sub-soil conditions. The building permitting process in Hernando County needs to provide a warrant identifying the parcels of land that are suitable for construction.
Second, sub-soil testing and the building impact fee need to be rolled into one single package. Persons who desire to locate in Hernando County need to know up front that there will be a $10,000 fee to be paid before a building permit is issued. In exchange, the builder and house buyer are both assured they are not playing sinkhole Russian roulette.
Obviously, some short-sighted folk will whine that this fee will make Hernando County uncompetitive. Hogwash. What damages the real estate market in Hernando County is the uncertainty created by sinkhole activity. In fact, the only way our county can become competitive again is to provide potential buyers the assurance that they need not worry about that sinking feeling.
Our homeowners' insurance has increased by a factor of five since we purchased our house nine years ago. We could go just about anywhere else in this nation and pay one-fifth the gouge Citizens Insurance calls a premium — for a policy with holes large enough to park a Mack truck. As a result, we make one mortgage payment to the bank and another mortgage payment to Citizens.
What would it mean to buy a house in Hernando County and not be burdened with costly sinkhole insurance? The county could charge an assurance fee up front and then buyers would be done with it. A onetime assurance fee versus sky-high insurance payments into perpetuity is a bargain. Further, our county would know that it would not suffer the disastrous loss of tax revenue from the loss of real estate taxes from homes damaged by sinkholes.
Hernando County cannot win the race to the bottom for low taxes and low impact fees. The only way to achieve growth and future prosperity is to develop assured, quality housing without any worry of sinkhole loss. Let's face it. Hernando's old game of caveat emptor is over. These days, prospective buyers do their initial exploration on the Internet. When they see the word "sinkhole" and learn what their insurance will cost, they will look elsewhere. Future growth depends on our county fixing this problem now.
President Lincoln said you can't fool all the people all of the time. The time has come to stop trying to fool ourselves and fix this vexing problem.
C.D. Chamberlain lives in Spring Hill.