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Growth adds to need for impact fees

(ran NTP edition)

There's good news and bad news in the announcement this week that northern Hillsborough communities are leading the county's surge in new residential construction.

The obvious good news is that growth brings new neighbors, economic activity and optimism, and it looks as if North of Tampa residents will get lots of all three. More residential building permits were pulled during this year's first quarter than during any previous quarter since 1987 _ with 566 for new apartments in Tampa Palms, 224 for homes in the Carrollwood Key subdivision and 240 for apartments in Town 'N Country.

"The higher permit rates reflect, in part, a general improvement in our economic environment," said Michael Stover, head of research and analysis for the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. "If interest rates remain stable, building should continue at this higher level for at least a year, particularly in unincorporated northern Hillsborough."

With area schools, roads and public utilities straining to keep up with demand, North of Tampa residents can readily predict the bad news: New neighbors put increased stress on infrastructure systems already taxed to their brink. For years, impact fees _ assessed when building permits are pulled _ have helped to offset some of that cost.

But the bad news would get even worse if building industry representatives got their way. Responding to news about the surge, the Greater Tampa Builders Association renewed the predictable call to lower or get rid of impact fees.

Thankfully, neither the city of Tampa nor Hillsborough County has, as of yet, heeded the builders' call _ and for good reason. As it is, county impact fees cover only a fraction of the costs associated with growth. Impact fees pay for only about 35 percent of added transportation costs and about 60 percent of added infrastructure (not to mention operating) costs associated with schools, parks and fire service, according to the county's principal planner Joe Moreda.

"There are a lot of infrastructure needs in the county that are currently unfunded, and funding has to come from somewhere if impact fees are reduced or eliminated," Moreda told the Times.

And that's precisely where the industry's call rings the most hollow. It's a tough sell to persuade current residents to fork over _ through their property taxes, gas revenues or other sources _ money to pay for impacts they don't cause. "When taxpayers oppose impact fees, they are really shooting themselves in the foot," said Al Eisenmenger, the commission's executive planner. "For every impact a new resident doesn't pay for, the existing resident will."