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Impact fees will nearly double
Builders complain and threaten to sue, but officials say the rise - from $4,779 to $9,211 for homes - is fair and defensible.
By DAN DeWITT
Published June 3, 2005
BROOKSVILLE - Over the protests of builders and real estate brokers, the County Commission voted unanimously Thursday to nearly double the county's impact fees.
The fees for new houses will jump from $4,779 to $9,211 starting next month. Assuming builders erect 3,000 new houses in the coming year, as is widely expected, the fees will generate nearly $28-million.
Impact fees will also rise steeply for commercial buildings according to their size. Tim Stoops, vice president of the Hernando Builders Association, said a 5,000-square-foot restaurant would now pay $71,335.
"This may be one more flag that shows our county is sort of antibusiness," Stoops said.
Impact fees are one-time charges to developers, passed on to home buyers, that are meant to defray the cost of public services demanded by growth. The county levies seven kinds of fees to pay for things like school construction, new roads and parks. In 2004, impact fees generated $15.5-million.
State law says the fees must be based on the cost of providing new residents with roads, schools and other facilities and services. But builders at the meeting - like those across the state - say the fees have climbed above those costs.
"We sure feel as though we pay our fair share," said Stuart Glover, owner of Palmwood Builders. The new fees, he said, "would put too much weight on the new folks moving in."
For that reason, the Hernando Builders Association may challenge the new fees in court.
"We're getting legal advice about our options," said Bob Eaton, chairman of the association's government affairs committee.
The association's consultant, Kirk Sorenson, said the county has based its impact fees for roads on a nationwide survey that overestimates the number and the length of car trips taken by the average resident.
This "will subject the county to additional legal challenges," Sorenson said.
If the county had used results from a Florida survey - and slightly reduced the school impact fees - the total would drop to $5,692, which Sorenson recommended.
But because "that (figure) may be politically unacceptable," Sorenson said, he proposed a compromise figure of $7,590.
Paul Wieczorek, the county planning department's impact fee specialist, said the Florida survey Sorenson advocated was prepared by a private firm whose methods were not clear.
County staffers had previously cut about $1,000 from the fees after discussions with Sorenson last month. After the meeting, they said the new figure is sound and should hold up in court.
"The evidence the staff used to arrive at these numbers is the best available, and our experts have reviewed the facts of the law and come to a defensible conclusion," County Attorney Garth Coller said.
Unless, of course, the legal standard to challenge impact fees changes in the future.
Counties currently must prove only that their fees are based on "fairly debatable" evidence. Lawmakers made several efforts in this year's session to raise this burden of proof. Though these failed, the Legislature appointed a committee to study the issue and make recommendations for next year.