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Politics

Board: Double road impact fees

An advisory panel rejects a property tax hike and tells the county to use money it has.

By DAVID DECAMP
Published April 10, 2007


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NEW PORT RICHEY - A month ago, a group of developers and business people thought they found a way to fix Pasco County's money crunch to pay for road work:

Double the impact fees for roads. Hike the gas tax 5 cents a gallon. And raise $25-million in new property taxes.

The county's Impact Fee Advisory Board gave its blessing Monday to the plan, but with a tweak: Skip the property tax hike and find $25-million from money Pasco already collects.

"That's not a very well thought-out suggestion," said Commissioner Michael Cox, who attended the advisory board's meeting. "I think the rest of the comments are very appropriate."

The commission will have a public hearing today in Dade City, and could make a decision April 24.

The proposed hikes would cover a shortfall for building and widening roads through 2012. County officials blame rising prices for asphalt, land and other materials for a 300 percent increase in the road-building costs over the past few years.

Under the latest proposal, road impact fees on new homes would double to $8,000 beginning Oct. 1, then ratchet up annually. That would make Pasco's impact fees among the highest in the state.

But the road impact fees for new offices, industrial projects and shopping centers would drop to entice more development.

Finding property tax dollars for road projects could be harder to do, top county officials said. A more likely option, County Administrator John Gallagher said recently, would be to increase the road impact fee to $9,500 for new homes and phase in a higher gas tax.

Facing a public outcry, the Legislature is pressing local governments to cut property taxes. Under various legislative proposals, Pasco could lose $13-million to $28-million in property tax revenue - and that doesn't include the $25-million in other spending that the Impact Fee Advisory Board wants to shift to roads.

Mike Nurrenbrock, the county's budget director, warned that shifting money to roads could affect other services that rely on property taxes, such as law enforcement and parks. For example, the parks department operates on an $11-million budget.

"I certainly don't think you can do the property taxes. ... We don't know what the Legislature is going to do," Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand said.

However, developers fear a steep hike in impact fees will cost them business. A consultant for the county recommended last year that impact fees for homes rise too, prompting the county to create a fact-finding committee of mostly development and business interests. That was the group that recommended the gas and property tax hikes last month.

At Monday's meeting of the advisory board, member Tom Smith suggested using an existing $25-million in property tax revenue to avoid a politically difficult property tax hike.

Smith's rationale: Fueled by growth and rising property values, Pasco has increased property taxes in the general fund from $96-million to $154-million over the past five years, despite cutting the tax rate.

Only one board member, Pasco School District assistant superintendent Ray Gadd, voted against Smith's proposal.

He said the fact-finding committee's original proposal should go to the County Commission intact.

The business group recommended increasing the property tax rate $1 per $1,000 in property value, which would raise about $25-million based on the 2007 budget.

For the owner of a $225,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption, that would add $200 to the tax bill.

Jim McBride, a member of the fact-finding committee, said he didn't think that would hurt taxpayers.

"I think it's going to help the county," he said.

David DeCamp can be reached at 727 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com.

If you go

Public hearing

What: County Commission hearing on impact fees and taxes

When: 1:30 p.m. today

Where: Historic county courthouse, Dade City

[Last modified April 10, 2007, 06:54:32]


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