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Move to lower fees would create a negative impact

Do county commissioners know how to keep score? Tuesday will tell. On that day, commissioners are scheduled to debate a proposal friendly to the housing industry — lowering impact fees.

This isn't about scoring political points. The score we're wondering about is the just-released Regional Economic Scorecard courtesy of the Tampa Bay Partnership. It compares this region, stretching from Citrus to Sarasota, with five other Southern metropolitan areas. It's dismal. The Tampa Bay region brings up the rear, pulled down by high unemployment and low wages.

You can read the scorecard and argue that it means the price of housing still needs to fall another $7,000 per single-family home to make the region competitive on affordable housing. Or, just as accurately, you can point out that wages need to increase because the region's average annual income of $38,527 is dead last among the six areas studied – Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Jacksonville and Raleigh/Durham. The average salary here is 25 percent less than in Dallas and even lags the Jacksonville pay scale by 3.5 percent.

Put another way, at the end of the year that's another $1,400 per employee circulating in the Jacksonville economy that isn't being spent in Tampa Bay.

It is reasonable to suggest the data shows Pasco County is correct to try to diversify its economy to attract more high-paying jobs here rather than relying on the housing and services industry. The planned T. Rowe Price relocation to southern Pasco and the prospering innovation at Dais Analytic Corp. are the kinds of business activity that can curb the county's live-here, work-there labor force.

But the data should not be used as a justification for more live-here thinking by continuing to prop up an industry that grew far too fast.

At a workshop Tuesday, commissioners will discuss Commissioner Ted Schrader's idea to chop impact fees assessed to new single-family homes. Schrader wants to waive the charges for libraries and parks, which would drop the county's fees by about 7 percent, or $1,400 per house. The more expensive charges for schools, roads, and utilities would remain.

Impact fees are one-time charges on new construction to help pay for the demand on services. Because falling property tax revenue is prohibiting the county from operating parks and libraries as it used to, Schrader questioned the wisdom of even collecting the impact fees for future capital expenses.

Well, how do you tell the family that just closed on a new home and paid the fees that you want to give a better deal to the guy who's about to build on the lot next door?

Waiving impact fees perpetuates the inequities that used to be a common complaint under the Save Our Homes tax exemption: Similarly sized homes pay different-size tax bills.

If this is a strategy to stimulate the housing market, it should be abandoned. It hasn't worked elsewhere nor will it work in Pasco with the abundant inventory of pre-existing houses choking the market.

And, frankly, there are political considerations as well. For starters, there are 4 acres of land in Trinity earmarked as a library site. Considering the uproar over the failed attempt to turn designated park land into a softball complex, is the commission really willing to tell Trinity residents there won't be a library branch close to their homes even though the developer gave the county property for one?

This scorecard suddenly could be calculating more crowded meetings and more commission backpedaling.

Earlier in the week, a 3-year-old in pigtails charmed the commission when she chirped "Save our library.'' She and nearly 3,000 petition signatures referenced a plan to close the Centennial Park library branch because of the overhead costs.

The charm will wear off, however, when the people at the podium are voting age, wearing red T-shirts and asking, Where's our library?

Move to lower fees would create a negative impact 08/28/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 28, 2010 1:09pm]

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