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County to decide whether to keep fee waivers in play

Editor's note: A version of this story originally appeared in a regional edition of the Times.

As commissioners consider an extension of their three-year experiment for redeveloping six impoverished areas of Hillsborough County, figures released last week show the pilot program already has cost taxpayers more than $6-million.

Moreover, extending the water hookup and transportation impact fee waivers by five years could cost an additional $16-million.

That estimate is for water hookups just in Gibsonton, the only area where developers have taken advantage of the waivers, which save them about $7,500 per home built.

Commissioners Jim Norman and Ronda Storms point to the hundreds of new homes built along the outskirts of Gibsonton as proof that the program is a success and deserves even more time to flourish.

The waiver for transportation impact fees is scheduled to expire July 15; the waiver for water/sewer hookups ends Sept. 30.

Norman proposes extending the waivers through summer 2008. During a public hearing July 16, he will try to sway fellow commissioners to vote for the extension.

Such an extension could be costly for Hillsborough taxpayers: The three-year pilot has cost more than $6-million in waived water and sewer fees, according to figures released this week . It could cost $7-million by the time the pilot program ends.

An additional $2.2-million was forfeited in transportation fees, which are collected to pay for road improvements in growing communities.

And, based on the number of undeveloped lots remaining in the Gibsonton subdivisions of Kings Lake and South Pointe, the county estimates that water hookup waivers during the next five years could add up to a taxpayer tab of $16-million.

"The rest of the taxpayers out there are handling what they have to, and we're going to let some developers get off free at the expense of the rest of the people if this continues," Commissioner Pat Frank said during the June 25 commission meeting.

She and Commissioner Jan Platt, who could not be reached this week, have opposed the waivers all along.

They say the program is an unnecessary incentive: Gibsonton would have developed anyway, because it is one link in a chain of new communities along U.S. 41 and U.S. 301, one of the last places in the county with large tracts of untouched land.

Platt and Frank contend that the impact fee waivers are simply a way to fatten the pockets of developers and other businesses with ties to home construction. With the waivers, developers have saved more than $7,500 per home: nearly $2,000 for water and sewer hookup and about $5,500 for the transportation fee.

And they worry that cookie-cutter communities will push out the carnival and circus workers who have made a home in Gibsonton since the 1930s.

Waiver supporters Storms and Norman say the waivers are a necessary short-term investment that will, in the long run, increase property values and bring the county more in property taxes.

Last week, Storms pointed to figures showing homes sold in the Gibsonton area are less expensive than similar homes elsewhere in the Tampa Bay area as proof that developers have passed their savings on to home buyers.

Of all six areas where impact fees have been waived since the summer of 2000, Gibsonton is the only one that's seen significant development.

While a handful of lots have been developed in the other five zones, including Wimauma and Orient Road, more than 1,000 Gibsonton lots have been developed, almost all of them single-family homes in new subdivisions.

"These were all economically distressed areas to start," said Susan Finch, impact fee manager. "The intent was to spark redevelopment. In Gibsonton, it's been more than a spark."

Norman said the five zones where impact fee waivers have been less successful _ Wimauma, Progress Village, Orient Road, the area surrounding University of South Florida and Causeway Boulevard _ simply need more time.

"It's a redevelopment tool," Norman said. "If you do away with these, those areas never have a chance."

The six areas were chosen because they are poor enough to qualify for federal community development block grants.

Storms suggested last week that Gibsonton might not be poor enough now to qualify for the grants; she wants to look into the issue and recommend whether Gibsonton should remain in the waiver program.

Before they meet July 16, commissioners want a detailed financial analysis of how the waivers have played out.

Finch said her staff is analyzing property tax revenues in the six zones, as well as how traffic capacity has been affected by the new homes.

"I have a lot of questions," Commissioner Kathy Castor said.

_ Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 661-2443 or svansicklersptimes.com.

Gibsonton impact fees

The Gibsonton area where developers are exempt from transportation immpact fees and water/sewer hookup fees has cost the county far more than in the other no-impact fee zones, where developers have not taken advantage of the waivers. In Gibsonton, more than 1,000 new homes have been built between July 2000 and March of this year, according to the latest figures released this week. Here's a breakdown for each zone:

Town Fee Cost

GIBSONTON Transportation $2.2 million Transportation

fees fees are waived

Water/sewer $6.1 million County pays about

hookup fees $5,600 per single-

family home

CAUSEWAY Transportation $39,520 Water and sewer

fees hookup fees do not

Water/sewer n/a apply because USF,

hookup fees Progress Village

ORIENT ROAD Transportation $3,570 Orient Road and a

fees portion of the

Water/sewer n/a Causeway no-fee

hookup fees zones area within

USF Transportation $71,876 the City of Tampa's

fees utility service

Water/sewer n/a area.

hookup fees

PROGRESS Transportation none

VILLAGE fees

Water/sewer n/a

hookup fees

WIMAUMA Transportation $17,215

fees

Water/sewer $39,212

hookup fees

Source: Hillsborough County

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