Hillsborough County did a bad job last decade managing its explosive growth, and now the commission chairman, Ken Hagan, would compound the damage by waiving fees that new residents pay for the congestion they add to the road network. This is an irresponsible idea that commissioners should reject.
Hagan is proposing to waive transportation impact fees for a year or two as a means to spark new construction. The fees are charged to new housing and commercial developments, and are meant to help offset the impacts that growth has on the transportation system. The fees for homes can reach $2,000, depending on size and location. Commercial buildings have a sliding scale, too; drive-in banks, for example, which attract lots of traffic, are charged more than day care centers.
The fees draw a reasonable nexus between development and the impact it causes, and they protect existing taxpayers by not shifting the entire financial cost for new roads onto residents who are already here. Hagan's idea combines bad planning with tax shifting. Hillsborough already has billions of dollars in unfunded transportation needs — in part because commissioners have gone down this road before and given new developments a free ride.
Hagan argues that the short-term costs are dwarfed by the value of an expanded property tax base. Well, sure — but so what? By that logic, why not eliminate impact fees entirely, including those for parks, schools and the fire department? The county has already cut fees and instituted property tax breaks to attract new development. And modest user fees for roads are hardly a deal breaker in an environment of historically low interest rates and in a county where market values have dropped 40 percent over the past four years.
Commissioners agreed to study Hagan's idea and reopen the discussion in June. This is nothing but a recipe for making Hillsborough's roads even worse. And it perpetuates the mentality on this board that residents can get something for nothing. The commission should reject the proposal and start thinking more seriously about how to give this community a competitive edge.