The elected leaders of the city of Brooksville are poised to demonstrate stronger vision than their short-sighted counterparts in the County Commission chambers. Monday evening, the council will consider the first step in adopting its own schedule of impact fees to circumvent the 50 percent reduction approved by county commissioners effective Dec. 1.
Currently, the city is contractually obligated to charge the same rates as the county, which means Brooksville's fees were cut in half without council authorization.
Now, the city plans to consider reinstating the full fees for capital facilities, parks, transportation and fire. In other words, the council has the political courage to suggest what legally will be a doubling of several of its current fees. (Impact fees for schools and library services are not affected because they are so-called pass-through fees collected by the city, but forwarded to other agencies.)
It is the correct thing to do. Reverting to the former schedule should mitigate any potential legal challenges because the rates are based on a 2005 county-authorized study justifying the expense. The city is simply going back to the rate everyone agreed to nearly five years ago.
If approved, and Monday is the start of an expected six-month process and two future votes, the city's fees will increase to $7,308 per single-family home on June 1. The county formerly charged a total of $9,229 per single-family house, but reduced it to $4,968 at least until Dec. 1, 2010.
Worse, the county also halved its fees for commercial construction, a maneuver based originally on faulty information that neighboring Citrus County had eliminated its fees. Nobody bothered to correct the record publicly nor rationalize why commercial fees that already comparable to Citrus and significantly less expensive than Pasco, needed to be even cheaper.
Impact fees, one-time charges on new construction, are intended to help pay for added roads, schools, parks, libraries and other demands caused by growth. The fees are paid by home buyers, not the builders, though that industry successfully lobbied commissioners to halve county fees after a push for a one-year moratorium failed. It was pitched as a strategy to jump-start the local economy which has a jobless rate above the state and national averages.
Even with the county unemployment rate now at 14.7 percent, lowering impact fees should not be construed an effective economic stimulus. It is a tactic that has failed to produce results elsewhere in Florida, and more to the point, if it did work, the county will fall behind in financing needed infrastructure with each new building constructed.
The city hasn't been shy about expressing a sentiment contrary to the county's. An earlier letter to the commission, signed by then-Mayor Joe Bernardini, warned existing taxpayers eventually will have to make up the difference if new development doesn't contribute its fair share to infrastructure.
So far, the Brooksville City Council has exhibited an understanding that the placating the interests of area home builders and contractors should not supersede consideration of the future tax burden on existing residents. Some of those residents, incidentally, already have paid the impact fees. The council should be applauded for its leadership and be prepared to resist the vested-interests' lobbying that is likely to come before the scheduled March 1 final vote on this proposed ordinance.