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Growth to cost more in Palm Harbor

Newcomers to Palm Harbor will pay more in impact fees starting April 1.

The impact fees, collected on every new residence and business, are used to help pay for capital improvements and growth in the Palm Harbor Fire Department.

At a meeting Thursday night, the Board of Fire Commissioners raised the rates by 13 percent for the next two years.

Homeowners will pay $110, up from $97. New businesses will pay $193, up from $170. From 1991 to 1993, the district collected more than $170,000 in impact fees.

"It's not an automatic thing," Chairwoman Irene Rausch said of the fee revenues. "If no one's building, then we're not collecting impact fee money."

The increase is based upon the fire board's perception that the once-explosive population growth in Palm Harbor is beginning to slow. As a result, fewer newcomers will have to fund a greater share of the department's growth.

"If you have a larger pool, then the (impact fee) is going to be smaller," Rausch said. "But we've had fewer numbers of new people coming in to offset the cost of the items we anticipate needing."

The Fire Department grew rapidly in the 1980s as the area's population did. But it couldn't pay for all its capital spending needs, and still is catching up.

"It's very frustrating," Rausch said. "We've been looking at the renovation of Station 67 for several years and just haven't had the funds to do it. We also need a generator over there. . . . But if you don't have the money to pay for it, you can't do it."

By law, the capital improvements must be new purchases made to accommodate growth in the district, such as the opening of the district's fourth station in 1990.

They cannot include replacement purchases, salaries or personnel costs.

So far, the department has projected more than $3-million in capital needs through 2000, including a $400,000 renovation to Station 67 and a new aerial truck, which could cost $460,000.

But impact fees will not pay for all the purchases. Funding through impact fees mirrors the population and business growth the board estimates. Because the growth is expected to be 21 percent through the end of this decade, the impact fees will fund 21 percent of all capital purchases for the next six years.

The department's yearly budget is intended to pay for the remaining 79 percent of any capital purchase.