TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners attempted to sidestep a potential Tallahassee roadblock Thursday night, voting to eliminate discounts for growth fees on new construction to pay for transportation and recreation.
On a pair of 5-2 votes, with Commissioners Ken Hagan and Stacy White dissenting, the commission increased impact fees on a new single-family home by $2,497, effective June 30.
The commission action came in the wake of proposed legislation in Tallahassee that would limit local governments’ ability to increase those fees in the future, and commissioners said they feared falling further behind in trying to provide sufficient roads and other services in fast-growing areas of the county.
“If we don’t get ahead of that we may never be able to reach 100 percent of the cost that developers should be paying,” said Commissioner Mariella Smith.
Commissioners approved higher fees for parks and transportation in May 2020, but agreed to phase in the increases over multiple years because of concerns over economic uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the time, the commission voted to increase the transportation fee, also called a mobility fee, from $5,094 to as much as $9,183 for a new single-family home, but they delayed and staggered the hike. At the start of 2021, the fee went to $7,346, or 80 percent of the recommended amount, and it is scheduled to increase by 10 percent twice more in 2022.
During the same meeting, commissioners considered increasing the park fee from $388 to $3,300 for a new single-family home, but then set an implementation schedule that never stated when a full fee would be assessed. The commission agreed to charge 55 percent of that rate in January, and increase it to 65 percent in 2022.
“I continue to maintain a deal’s a deal, and we made a deal in good faith,” White said Thursday night about the staggered increases.
But most of those discounts came off the board with the commission’s votes. The transportation fee jumps to the full amount of $9,183 for a new house and, after some debating and cajoling, commissioners set the park fee at 75 percent of the recommended amount. The park fee will be $2,475 per new home.
The county charges impact fees on new construction to help pay for the roads, parks, utilities, schools, and fire safety demands created by growth. In December, Smith asked the board to eliminate the transportation fee discount but found herself on the short end of a 4-3 vote. This time, Commissioners Harry Cohen and Gwen Myers changed their positions and agreed to expedite the fee increases in the wake of proposed state legislation and the county’s shortfall in transportation funding.
“I just don’t think we have a choice any more,” said Cohen. “I think that we are at a point where the needs are so critical, the options are so few that we have to grab what we can.”
Commission Chair Pat Kemp pushed to eliminate the discounts after she learned of bills filed by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota and Rep. Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, to limit impact fee increases to no more than 3 percent a year. The Senate Community Affairs Committee, however, approved a substitute bill Wednesday that strikes the 3 percent cap.
Instead, it requires impact fees to increase via phased installments. Under this version, an increase of up to 25 percent must be accomplished in two annual increments. Four installments are required for any fee jump beyond 25 percent. The bill caps increases at 50 percent of the existing fee and prohibits local governments from raising their impact fees more than once every four years.
The House version of the bill was amended similarly last week. Both bills still must be approved by additional committees before reaching floor votes. Commissioners took little solace in the removal of the 3 percent cap on future increases.
“It becomes very difficult for us to ...properly do good government when the rules are stacked against us,” said Commissioner Kimberly Overman.