Dade City commissioners are correctly ending a two-year retreat on the city's transportation impact fees, a move that follows Pasco County's lead in restoring its impact fees for parks, libraries and public safety.
The city's initial motive in waiving the fees was to stimulate economic development and remain competitive with their neighbors. But Dade City wisely wants to again start preparing for its future road needs beyond the next few years. And the value of impact fees can be seen in an imperative, but still pending road project.
The extension of Morningside Drive from U.S. 301 to Fort King Road — providing an essential connector between the city's eastern and southern edges — is slowly moving from aspiration to asphalt. The eventual construction will be financed by past impact fee collections.
Impact fees, the one-time charges on new construction to help pay for the service demands caused by growth, have been scorned by the building and development industries since the fees' inception in the mid 1980s for roads, sewer and water lines, and later for schools, parks, libraries and public safety equipment.
Despite the worries, the fees never did kill the golden goose of residential home-building that provided the backbone of Pasco's economy. However, local governments across the state began cutting, then waiving the fees entirely in hopes of providing an economic stimulus after the real estate market collapsed in 2008.
Pasco County, for instance, waived its fees for parks, libraries, public safety and hurricane preparedness from 2011 until the end of 2013. But it wisely resisted the temptation and political pressure from the home-building community to do likewise for road and education fees. One county to the north, Hernando commissioners continue to freeze their school impact fee and declined a consultant's recommendation to adopt a higher transportation fee.
Dade City is smart to avoid such short-sightedness. Nearly two years ago, commissioners agreed to suspend the transportation fee of $5,223 per single-family home in an attempt to remain competitive with the county and the city of Zephyrhills. The county had recast its transportation charges as mobility fees that varied from $1,553 up to $9,312 depending on a home's size and location. Zephyrhills, meanwhile, charged $3,632 per home.
Since the moratorium started, the city has issued 53 residential permits and three for commercial buildings — meaning that Dade City forfeited more than $250,000 worth of road construction dollars. It's imprudent planning.
The commission is smart to end this experiment, update its data for a new fee, and be ready to adopt it in May when the moratorium officially ends. Trying to prepare for growth is more logical than trying to prolong economic gimmickry.