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  1. Hernando

Make Hernando County newcomers pay more for the public facilities they'll require. Commissioner says it's time.

BROOKSVILLE — Increasing impact fees on new construction has not been considered in Hernando County for years — unless you count the occasional citizen riled up that current residents are footing the bill for services and infrastructure needed by newcomers.

But Hernando County Commissioners are facing a major budget shortfall at the same time building permit numbers are climbing and thousands of new housing units have been approved.

"Nobody likes to talk about impact fees, but we're going to have some serious impacts with the development that's coming up,'' Commissioner John Allocco said at the end of the July 30 commission meeting. One of those impacts is the need for public office space.

"We're going to be talking about the expansion of the (Hernando County ) Government Center for space needs,'' Allocco said.

The subject came up the same day at the Hernando County School Board's informal meeting.

Hernando County's school impact fees are thousands of dollars lower for each new single family home than in neighboring Pasco County, board members noted. That leaves money on the table that the district might need as a growing population puts strain on school capacity, board member Jimmy Lodato said.

"If you expect us to build schools, but you're not giving us the money to build schools, how do we build it?" he asked.

Impact fees are designed to make growth help pay for itself.

Local governments charge fees on new homes and businesses based on the infrastructure needs they create. The fees can help pay for new roads, schools, public safety facilities, parks and public buildings. The fees are based on studies that justify how much it costs to pay for new buildings and other infrastructure to handle the additional people.

The County Commission decides which fees to impose, when and at what level.

Hernando County's fees were suspended in 2011 when the housing bust was driving home builders out of business and stagnating the county's growth. The fees were reinstated in 2013 for many fees and in 2016 for roads and schools. The county's builders and realtors fought the fees, saying the time wasn't right and the fees might drive away home buyers.

Building permit numbers since the height of the building boom show a massive swing in activity.

At its peak in 2005, Hernando County issued 4,185 building permits for single-family homes with a total property value of $749 million. In 2011, those numbers hit the bottom, with 150 permits for single-family homes valued at $19.7 million.

The numbers have been rebounding since then, with 988 home permits in 2018 with a total value of $194 million. This year through June, the Hernando County building department has issued 472 home permits at a value of $81.3 million.

The total impact fee in Hernando County for a single-family home is $4,714, with $2,133 of that going to the school district.

Allocco doesn't want to drastically increase the fees, which are passed along to new home buyers, and in the case of commercial construction, to customers.

"One of the things we have to be concerned about is adding too big a cost right up front,'' he said. He suggested raising fees $1,500 a year for homes over the next several years.

As the county tries to find ways out of its general fund shortfall, Allocco said, this needs to be considered. Commissioners have set a tentative property tax rate 14 percent higher than the current rate for the purpose public hearings on the budget, which take place in September. They could set a lower rate, but not a higher one.

Some have argued that rising property values should offset the need for new taxes, but financial consultants hired by the county have said that doesn't solve the problem.

"Right now I think we're at the tipping point, where our revenues are not keeping up with our needs,'' Allocco told his fellow commissioners.

"We do have to start thinking about the impact of the next several thousand homes that are scheduled to be built in this county.

"Nobody likes impact fees, I get that.''

The county has $12.5 million in impact fee funds in an account now, that don't include funds that went straight to the school district. Some of the county funds are promised to projects, but have not been spent.

Commissioner Steve Champion said the county doesn't need to increase impact fees, given the amount of money it has on hand. He used the example from earlier in the meeting when commissioners discussed spending park impact fee dollars to buy and develop land for more boat trailer parking spaces in Hernando Beach.

"What do we need more impact fee money for right now?'' Champion asked.

Schools and public buildings, among other needs, Allocco responded.

Commissioners have discussed building a new government center to make room in the existing building for expanding county judicial offices. The price tag they have discussed is approximately $35 million. The county has $2.1 million in its impact fee coffers for public buildings.

During a recent master plan revision before county officials on the next phase of the Trails at Rivard, officials noted that new houses would overload area elementary schools, the first such discussion in recent memory.

Champion was not concerned.

The school district "wants more taxes ... They're going up every year,'' he said. "There's never enough.''

Champion said raising impact fees means raising the cost on businesses that they pass on to customers.

"It goes against our core beliefs,'' he said.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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