Two North Suncoast counties wisely acknowledge the need to invest in their transportation networks to make roads safer and better prepare for growth. But while they are headed in the right direction, elected officials in Hernando and Pasco should consider more balanced approaches to paying for the improvements. Both counties should demand developers, home builders and their customers assume a larger share of the cost of transportation projects.
In Hernando County, the School Board and County Commission are seeking a November referendum on a 10-year, 1-cent sales tax that would raise $15.2 million a year. It would replace an expiring half-cent sales tax for school construction. The new version gives half the proceeds to schools for maintenance and technology, a portion to the city of Brooksville, and the remainder to the county for road construction and economic development. To ease school district concerns over the political risk of partnering with the commission, the county earmarked $3 million of its share for sidewalks and other improvements near seven schools. It's a nice gesture, but the payoff is too little for a school district that twice saw county commissioners reject School Board requests to charge impact fees on new home construction.
Hernando commissioners demonstrated the same lack of foresight regarding their road network when they reduced and then waived transportation impact fees over the past five years. New road fees are scheduled to start in August, but at a greatly discounted rate to appease the politically influential home builders.
If Hernando commissioners expect residents to pay higher taxes for road construction, then they should hold builders and developers to the same expectations. Commissioners should raise their new road impact fees by 40 percent, as a consultant recommended last year, to better meet future transportation needs and to demonstrate to voters they won't be shouldering an unfair share of the county's road-building costs.
In Pasco County, commissioners also are reluctant to ask developers to increase their contributions toward transportation. The commissioners agreed Tuesday to budget an additional $8 million per year (the equivalent of a 5-cent-per-gallon increase in the local gasoline tax) for road construction and maintenance without specifying the source of the new money. Unfortunately, the only two concepts under discussion are increasing gas taxes or property taxes. A more equitable solution should include a combination of a higher tax and a modest increase in the road fees charged for development.
The debate comes as Pasco County updates its 3-year-old mobility fee, a transportation charge that varies depending on a development's location. The county projects delaying or canceling 28 planned roads over the next two decades because construction costs are up 20 percent, and the commission decided last year to allocate current gas tax revenues for road maintenance, street lighting and other costs instead of financing new roads.
Turning exclusively to motorists and homeowners for the higher expenses is unfair. Instead, the Pasco County Commission should increase its mobility fees by at least 14 percent, effectively asking developers to absorb an additional $3.2 million worth of road costs each year and capping a gas tax increase at 3 cents per gallon.
Pasco and Hernando counties are wise to invest in the future with an eye toward accommodating growth. But they should not be afraid to ask developers to pay their fair share.