Hillsborough commissioner seeks higher transportation fees

Commissioner Mariella Smith wants to end a phase-in of the charge for new transportation.
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 Dec. 15, 2020|Updated Dec. 15, 2020

TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s transportation fees on new construction are increasing in January. The question is by how much.

Commissioner Mariella Smith is seeking a do-over of the decision in May when commissioners agreed to phase-in the escalation over three years.

Smith wants to waive the staged approach and begin charging the full amount as soon as possible. She is scheduled to ask the full commission to begin that process Wednesday.

A final vote wouldn’t come until sometime in the new year, but If approved, the change would mean up to an additional $1,837 surcharge on a new single-family home.

“We have citizens clamoring for relief from the gridlock that is lowering their quality of life,” Smith told the Tampa Bay Times.

Smith said getting the full transportation fee is imperative in light of budget constraints because of reduced tax collections and increased demands for service due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Commissioners learned in the summer that their 10-year, $812 million transportation plan, adopted in September 2016, faced a $423 million deficit, mostly from a pandemic-induced decline in projected sales tax collections.

Related: Hillsborough budget shows transportation shortfall

That revelation followed the vote in May to stagger the transportation fee increase.

In the spring, consultant Tindale Oliver recommended 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.

Related: Hillsborough commissioner approves higher impact fees

Commissioners, with only Commissioner Ken Hagan dissenting, voted to bump the fee to $7,346 or 80 percent of the recommended amount on Jan. 1, 2021. It would climb to 90 percent of the full fee in 2022 and be implemented entirely the following year.

“I’m really hoping they stick with what they approved six months ago,” said Jennifer Motsinger, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association. “If county government decides to do a bait and switch, all that is going to be is another example of how people can’t trust government.”

The transportation surcharge, known as a mobility fee, varies according to the size and type of the structure and the location it is built. The one-time assessment on new construction is intended to help pay for roads and other transportation improvements to accommodate new residents and businesses. The county also charges fees on new construction to pay for classrooms, water and sewer utilities, parks and public safety.

Commissioner Stacy White, who proposed phasing in the fee in May, said he was undecided on Smith’s plan.

“With COVID-19 and so many people out of work, I don’t know what that’s going to mean to people being able to afford homes and what it’s going to look like in the future for the home industry and for the economy at large,” said White.

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The building, development and related industries account for 20 percent of the Hillsborough County economy, the builders’ association has said previously.

Motsinger said the county should detail where the increased transportation fees will be spent, and added that the building industry didn’t object to commissioners approving higher fees for schools and utilities earlier this year because of the demonstrated need.

“I’m just trying to catch up,’' said Smith. “In the case of transportation, the solution is to get funding and begin fixing this backlog of the sins of the past. We have to be allocating funds to fix that.”