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Builders line up to beat fee hike

For two weeks, Jon Dowler worked feverishly, designing house plans so new home buyers would not have to pay higher impact fees, which went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday.

By the deadline, Dowler had completed six blueprints, saving the company he works for and its home buyers a total of more than $3,000.

"A lot of people worked hard to get their house plans together and get their ducks in a row," said Dowler, a house designer for Alexander Custom Homes in Spring Hill. "We were trying to get the plans to the point where we could get a (building) permit (before Friday)."

Dozens of builders and contractors tried to beat Friday's deadline and avoid paying higher impact fees. The fees are onetime charges on new residential and commercial construction that pay for infrastructure needed to support the growth.

Hernando County Development Director Grant Tolbert said most builders turned in their applications last week. Others waited until Friday, resulting in long lines at the Building Department office in the Hernando County Government Center in downtown Brooksville.

"We've been calling all week to tell people their permits are ready, but they haven't been coming in," Tolbert said. "All builders are known for being the world's biggest procrastinators. So they wait till the last minute."

After debating the impact fee last year and deciding to leave the fees alone, county commissioners reconsidered this year and voted to raise the fees, saying they needed the money to help build parks and improve roads. For single-family homes, the fees went up $557 from $2,341 to $2,898.

Builders argue that higher impact fees will reduce the number of housing starts in Hernando.

"I don't know how it's going to affect the building industry. I don't think it's going to help it," Dowler said. "Personally, I can't think good of anything going up in cost."

To make matters worse for the busy Building Department, applications at the department's Spring Hill office had to be processed manually Friday for about 2{ hours. Computers went down temporarily.

"It's Halloween, it's pouring down rain, the electricity is going off, and it's the last day to file permits under the old impact fees," Tolbert joked Friday. "We're having fun."

"Crazy" is how Judy Hart described Friday's rush. Hart, who issues commercial permits in the department, said lines began growing last week. Dozens of people called to ask about the county's prepayment program, which allows builders to pay for impact fees before securing a permit, she said.

"But that doesn't start until Nov. 1, so they would be prepaying the new amount," she said.

Despite complications, Tolbert said the Building Department collected about $160,000 in impact fees Friday. The rush to obtain permits Friday cost the county about $104,000 that would have been collected at the new rate.

Throughout October, builders, contractors and home buyers scrambled to complete house plans and close deals. The Building Department issued 96 single-family house permits in October 1996, compared to 397 this October, Building Department records show. Of those, 187 single-family house permits were issued Friday.

"That's at least double what we would normally issue in a month," Tolbert said.

Not everyone was eager to beat Friday's deadline. Tolbert said at least 12 people did not pick up their permits and will be charged more when they do.

"They're going to be upset," he said.

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