Hillsborough commission approves higher impact fees

By 6-1 vote, park and mobility fees will go up Jan. 1
Aerial photo of homes and new construction in the Southfork Lakes subdivision on Saturday, March 7, 2020 in Riverview.
Aerial photo of homes and new construction in the Southfork Lakes subdivision on Saturday, March 7, 2020 in Riverview. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published May 20, 2020|Updated May 20, 2020

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners agreed to increase impact fees for new park construction and transportation Wednesday.

By a pair of 6-1 votes, with Commissioner Ken Hagan dissenting, the commission said park and transportation fees will increase beginning Jan. 1, but at a reduced rate rather than what a consultant recommended. On both fees, commissioners agreed to a phased-in approach and also said they would do an annual review of the charges.

The park impact fee will increase from an average of $388 to $3,300 for a new, 2,000-square-foot, single-family home. That fee hasn’t increased since its adoption in 1985. The plan also includes a $2,042 park fee for each new hotel room. The commission agreed to charge 55 percent of that rate in January, and increase it to 65 percent a year later.

A study from Tindale Oliver proposed increasing the transportation fee from $5,094 to as much as $9,183 for a single-family home. The fee would be reduced to $7,401 if the legal challenge to the voter-approved transportation surtax is rejected by the Florida Supreme Court.

The commission agreed to charge 80 percent of the recommended transportation fee on Jan. 1, increase it to 90 percent a year later and then fully implement the charge on Oct. 1, 2022.

Commissioner Stacy White advocated for the stepped increases to avoid fees going up in the 2020 calendar year because of economic uncertainty from the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s always this push to phase in and leave more of the burden on the taxpayer,’’ argued Commissioner Mariella Smith. “It’s just not fair to make those taxpayers pay to subsidize this one industry that happens to have the biggest lobbyists.’’

Commissioner Sandra Murman supported the increases, but not before listing a litany of objections because of the economy.

“I think there’s too many questions unanswered right now,’’ she said.

Impact fees, which vary according to the size of the house and the location it is built, are one-time assessments on new construction to help pay for the roads, schools and other services needed to accommodate new residents and businesses. The cost traditionally gets passed on to the buyer in the price of the house.

During public hearings prior to the commission votes, Jennifer Motsinger, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association, called on commissioners to spend existing dollars on transportation projects to help solve congestion “instead of blaming everything on us.’’ The full fee increases will add 7 percent to the price of a house, she said.

Representatives of the Bay Area Apartment Association also objected, saying higher fees will hurt their industry. They said 4,460 apartments are under construction locally, representing a $1.7 billion investment creating 8,000 construction jobs.

But Kent Bailey, chairman of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club, said increasing the fees would make Hillsborough more competitive with neighboring Pasco and Manatee counties. There, higher fees haven’t stifled fast growth, he said, and instead “allow those counties to provide better services that are so critical to quality of life.’’

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If the home-building activity mirrors the number of permits issued in 2019, the new fees, if assessed at 100 percent, would generate $15.6 million annually for parks, and $27.9 million to $45.4 million, depending on the status of the transportation surtax.

But the annual review likely means the debate will continue in 2021 among new board members, since Commissioners Hagan, Murman and Chairman Les Miller Jr. face face term limits in November.

Related: Commission majority poised to raise impact fees

The county is expected to grow by more than 165,000 people over the next 10 years. To meet that demand, the county would need 173 acres of new community parks, 252 acres of sports complex land and 77,000 square feet of indoor gymnasiums or similar space, according to a study from consultants TischlerBishe. Those three big-ticket categories are projected to carry a combined cost of nearly $140 million. The study also calls for additional trails, boat ramps and other facilities.

The county currently has 1,082 acres of community park land spread among 66 sites. Those range from 1.3 acres at the Morgan Woods Community Center in Town N’ Country to 107 acres at Stephen J. Wortham Park in Riverview. The community park expansion is projected to cost $39.5 million for land and equipment.

The expanded sports complexes would come with a $65 million price tag. Currently, the county operates 38 sports complexes totaling 1,576 acres.

The park inventory also includes 11 regional parks totaling 3,253 acres, 11 special use facilities like the Lutz School House and the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds, 57 miles of trails and nearly half a million square feet of indoor gymnasiums, recreation space and civic centers around the county.The added indoor park facilities are projected to cost $34 million.