Hernando County's reckless rush to forgive future impact fee payments as an economic stimulus is short-sighted and could lead to increased traffic congestion. In a matter of just minutes, the commission's debate last week turned from giving a break to buyers of newly built homes to halving its fees for new commercial and industrial buildings as well. The impetus? Commission Chairman David Russell said he had "heard'' that Citrus County had eliminated its impact fees entirely for the nonresidential buildings. Unfortunately, Russell heard wrong.
Commissioner Jim Adkins seized on what turned out to be erroneous information and argued that the decisions in Citrus put Hernando County at a competitive disadvantage in industrial recruiting and economic development. It helped persuade the commission to include all new construction in its turn-back-the-clock schedule, cutting impact fees to levels that were in effect from 2001 to 2005.
That the commission would advocate such seat-of-the-pants governing without verifying the unsubstantiated tidbit from the chairman is perplexing. And it also raises the consideration that unveiling accurate information isn't a priority when it comes to appeasing special interests.
Here is information of which the commission should be cognizant before its Nov. 10 public hearing on the lowered impact fees: Citrus County reduced its impact fees 10 months ago but did not eliminate them.
Building a discount superstore, for instance, still carries a price tag of more than $14,600 per 1,000 square feet, with 85 percent of the dollars earmarked for transportation improvements needed to offset traffic to the new store. Even without a cut to pre-2005 levels, Hernando County assesses an impact fee of a little more than $6,500 per 1,000 square feet for large retail stores, of which $5,400 is for roads.
There is no competitive disadvantage. Hernando's impact fees on commercial space already are less than half of its northern neighbor's. Both counties charge roughly the same on light industrial space. Hernando's fees are slightly higher on warehouses, but significantly less on office space.
Cutting commercial and industrial impact fees for the next year will cost Hernando County a couple of million dollars in revenue if development patterns remain consistent; at the same time, commissioners bemoan the high cost of obtaining right of way for new lanes of traffic. The commission should consider a more thoughtful approach to stimulate the local economy, including targeting higher-wage jobs. These knee-jerk proposals, even if successful, create short-term construction jobs but perpetuate Hernando's low-paying, service-based economy.
Only Commissioner Jeff Stabins came prepared with an alternative. His housing rehabilitation proposal could provide some employment opportunities for contractors while improving the value of the county's existing housing stock.
The commission should find a way to fund housing rehabilitation so that it can accurately evaluate a year from now whether the county benefitted more from rebuilding modest-sized dilapidated residences or from new home construction in a county that already has more housing inventory that its population can absorb.