Pasco gives first nod to tripling parks impact fees

County officials have a long list of park upgrades and additions, but they’ll cost new homeowners, renters.
Sandhill cranes fly over Crews Lake Wilderness Park off Shady Hills Road in Pasco County in 2016. The park is one of several Pasco parks planned for expansion in the coming years.
Sandhill cranes fly over Crews Lake Wilderness Park off Shady Hills Road in Pasco County in 2016. The park is one of several Pasco parks planned for expansion in the coming years. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Sept. 20, 2022|Updated Sept. 21, 2022

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County commissioners voted Tuesday for $3,450 in new impact fees per new household to support parks, recreation and natural resources — more than three times the current impact fee for those purposes.

The vote is the first step in a monthslong process of implementing new fees that would be charged on new construction of both single-family homes and multifamily housing units. While commissioners all agreed that new parks and facilities are needed, they did haggle a bit over how to pay the full bill for those costs.

The master plan for parks shows a bottom line just shy of a quarter of a billion dollars between now and 2035, although the fee the commissioners approved Tuesday lengthened the timeline to 2045.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, concerned that the county’s impact fees were already among the highest in the state, voted against the proposed increase, pushing instead for a hybrid payment plan that would include some rise in the impact fee but also a small tax charged to existing property owners to help make up for the significant backlog in needs for recreational facilities.

Officials anticipate it will take six months to finalize all the details, and changes could still happen.

The current impact fees for parks and recreation were set in 2002. They are $892 for single-family homes and $627 for multifamily. A recent impact fee study found little justification for different fees and recommended all housing units pay the same rate.

The impact-fee consultants based their numbers on the 2022 county parks capital plan, which includes 19 projects across the county, including five new district parks, three major expansions of existing parks and two natural resources parks.

Projects on the list include expanding recreational vehicle and campground facilities at Crews Lake Park, cabins at the Withlacoochee River Park, new athletic fields at the Land O’ Lakes Recreational Complex and the Wesley Chapel District Park and district parks in Connerton, Bexley and Two Rivers.

Under new state requirements, the county must demonstrate extraordinary circumstances for such a large increase in the fee, said Pasco’s director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, Keith Wiley. That was an easy bar in Pasco with its rapid growth, increasing demands, rising costs of property and of construction, he said.

Wiley suggested that the new fee could be phased in over two years to take out some of the sting. But Commissioner Jack Mariano said the needs were too great already and made the motion to move forward with the fee adoption without the phasing idea.

Commissioners often hear pleas to improve recreational opportunities and on Tuesday they heard one from Novi Maric, an official with Florida Premier FC, which grew out of the former West Pasco Soccer Association. Just last weekend, the county hosted games for 500 families from around the country but the county didn’t have enough fields to accommodate them all.

“We need to invest in our youth and that begins with parks and recreation,” Maric told commissioners. “They should have fields to play on.”