The giveaways to the development community just keep coming. Tuesday, Hernando commissioners will consider allowing companies and individuals who pre-paid impact fees years ago, but never started construction, to get a full refund with interest.
It is an undesirable by-product of the commission's decision in November to waive all impact fees, the one-time assessments on new construction to help pay for roads, public safety, parks and libraries needed to accommodate a growing population.
The suggestion now is to let the current ordinance expire. With the impact fees set at zero, it gives people who pre-paid their fees prior to June 2005 the chance to get their money back, obtain building permits and move forward with their projects without paying their fair share. (The county has $1 million banked in pre-paid impact fees, down about 20 percent over 2011 because of earlier refunds.)
The end result contradicts the logic of 2005 when a previous commission said people who pre-paid had entered into a contract with the county and shouldn't have to shoulder future costs of higher fees. This newer plan, however, essentially allows property owners to void said contract to the detriment of county revenue and its infrastructure.
This isn't a fairness issue, it's a freebie to an influential special interest group. It also penalizes homeowners who paid impact fees in good faith and who now stand to subsidize a larger share of the future costs of growth through property taxes. That's not economic development, its a cost shift of government services.
In 2009, as a short-sighted gimmick to jump start home construction and to create jobs, commissioners halved their impact fees for single family homes to just less than $4,900. When that didn't work, they agreed four months ago to suspend the fees entirely for at least a year and also to waive the more expensive impact fees charged for new commercial construction.
The expiring ordinance is a continuation of that failed economic strategy. Its roots stretch to 2005 when the county nearly doubled its impact fees to $9,200 per single-family home, but allowed people who had already paid — at the significantly lower price — up to three years to obtain their permits and to start construction.
In the ensuing years, the commission extended the deadline to obtain the permit or get their money back. There was little motivation for a refund, however, because the reduced impact fees approved in 2009 matched the prepaid amount of 2005. With impact fee payments no longer required, there will be ample motivation to try to skip out on the fees altogether.
A commission truly concerned with improving its economy should shift its focus from single-family homes and avoid the pitfalls of granting continued breaks for the residential construction industry. Instead, the commission needs to devise a sustainable, long-term funding source to pay for the roads and other services new residents will demand.