Hillsborough County commissioners will hold the first of several hearings Wednesday to consider whether to increase impact fees charged to new construction that are meant to offset the costs of growth. Hillsborough has kept these fees artificially low for years, benefiting builders and home buyers alike. It’s time that new residents pay more for the demands they impose on area roads, utilities and other public infrastructure. But the commission should recognize these are changing economic times and show some restraint.
Commissioners on Wednesday will consider fee increases for transportation and parks, and in June they will consider increases for water and wastewater utilities. While increases for all are justified, the commission has some leeway to soften the financial hit and to make reasonable priorities in this shaken economy.
Transportation. Known as mobility fees, these fees come nowhere close to paying for the impact new growth has on the county’s transportation system. The proposal would increase the current fee of $5,094 per single family home to $7,401 should the county’s 1-cent transportation sales tax survive a legal challenge before the Florida Supreme Court. If the court invalidates the tax, the mobility fee would increase to $9,183. This is a fair and much-needed increase as traffic demands spike in the far-flung suburbs. A short phase-in would be appropriate at the higher rate.
Parks. Hillsborough hasn’t increased its $388 impact fee for parks since 1985, and if indexed for inflation, it would be about $940 now. Hillsborough’s fee is the lowest among 13 peer or neighboring counties; the proposal would raise it to $3,300 per home. The measure also would impose a $2,042 fee on new hotel rooms, on the argument that visitors use the park system. As outdated as the fee is, this is not the time to significantly increase the park fee. And there is no justification for applying it to hotel rooms. Commissioners should focus on core infrastructure - road, water and sewer systems - and provide some relief where they can.
Utilities. Hillsborough hasn’t adjusted its fees for water and wastewater since 2004, and crushing growth in south county is creating costly, monumental demand. Utility fees since 2006 combined have amounted to a fraction of the $475 million needed by 2023 for new water and wastewater plants. The current fee of $3,550 per home would increase to $4,814 in north county, and to $5,865 in faster-growing south county. A separate fee to reserve utility capacity for new homes would be $1,822. That fee had been $1,945 before the county suspended it entirely in 2014.
Commissioners are facing the consequences now from years of subsidizing home construction. Still, the economic devastation from the coronavirus epidemic is severe and unsettled, and commissioners need to be sensitive to the effects increases would have on jobs and the housing market. Putting off a substantial increase for parks would shave the total fee package by one-third. That’s a reasonable concession for now that would help home buyers and the industry. But it’s time to acknowledge that the free ride must end. These costs are falling on the backs of existing residents and businesses. Commissioners should increase transportation and utility fees and address parks when the economy improves.
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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news