Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Opinion

Hernando impact fee foes aren't making a lot of sense

Let's hope they were just playing to the crowd.

Let's hope that, really, two of the Hernando County commissioners who tried to poke holes in a plan to reinstate impact fees for roads — even in the very idea of impact fees — aren't as clueless as they seem.

First, here's the modest plan the commission heard Tuesday:

Because the county is growing slowly — not creating a lot of new demand for roads — it can afford to give people building new homes and stores a break. Not the total break the commission granted in November 2011 and agreed on Tuesday to extend to at least November. But maybe 50 percent off.

The deal is especially sweet in Brooksville and Spring Hill, places that already have collector roads and the stuff people need to drive to — stores, offices, parks and libraries.

People building in these urban areas — along with a couple of industrial hubs — would get the biggest share of the discount, maybe 75 percent off.

Besides raising at least a little bit of money for roads, this should have the benefit of reining in sprawl, and doing it in a way developers always said they wanted it done, with more carrot and less stick.

Who could argue with that?

Well, for starters, Commissioner Wayne Dukes.

What about the guy who owns a lot in Royal Highlands? Dukes asked. He'll pay more for road impact fees, and his house will be on a lime rock road. How's that fair?

Here's how.

Impact fees don't pay for roads in neighborhoods. They pay for the roads that lead to neighborhoods. And the farther removed these neighborhoods are from the places people need to get to, the longer — and more expensive — these roads are.

So Dukes was wrong. But at least I knew where he was coming from. As for Commissioner Nick Nicholson? I still haven't figured that out.

First, he said he's been a sprawl-fighter from way back (first I've heard) and seemed totally on board with the impact fee plan.

Then Nicholson said he doesn't favor impact fees at all.

Then he said the county isn't really losing money by failing to charge road impact fees, because expensive houses like the ones he designs pay more than enough in property taxes to cover the costs of building roads, sewers and everything else they need.

This is mistaken for many reasons, but let me point out just one: Property taxes generally go to run things in government, not build them. And if Nicholson thinks there's plenty of extra tax revenue for new roads, I guess he just hasn't been paying attention.

He did do the public one favor, unintentionally raising a good example of how, if he and Dukes aren't just showing off for voters — and if they and one other commissioner really are willing to dump road impact fees — it means the rest of us will eat more of the cost of development.

Remember the $11 million road-widening project I wrote about recently, the one the people behind a development east of Brooksville had once agreed to pay for but are now asking the state (us!) to fund?

This is not a giveaway, Nicholson said, because any money the developers don't put into the widening job, they must pay in impact fees.

"Wait a minute," Commissioner Diane Rowden said. "What impact fees?"

Right. What impact fees?

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