Tarpon may triple impact fee

Published May 17, 2007

TARPON SPRINGS - Commissioners want new development in this quaint, Mediterranean-flavored city. But they also want the newcomers to pay their way.

Which is why the City Commission is poised to triple the city's water impact fee over the next two years.

A final vote will be taken June 5, but during Tuesday night's meeting it was clear the commission would embrace the change.

"It's not a comfortable thing to increase impact fees like this, " said Commissioner Robin Saenger. But she and other commissioners said it was necessary.

Impact fees must be used for costs related to growth, and because the city buys its water from Pinellas County, the amount it could charge was limited by its lack of infrastructure investment.

But voters' decision in March 2006 to build a local water treatment plant now allows the city to increase impact fees, in part, to help cover the future cost of that plant.

A few months ago, the city commissioned its first water and sewer impact fee study since 1991.

At Tuesday's meeting, Mike Burton, president of Burton & Associates, presented the findings. The consultant recommended decreasing sewer impact fees slightly, from $1, 788 to $1, 459 per residential unit, the equivalent of most single-family homes. But he proposed tripling water impact fees from $631 to $1, 895.

Collected fees for water and sewer go into their own funds and can be used only for capital improvement projects related to growth, said city finance director Arie Walker. Some, but not all, of the water fee revenue will go to the new plant.

Whether increased impact fees will allow the city to lower overall user rates remains to be seen, Burton said.

If the ordinance passes on second reading, water impact fees will jump to $1, 265 in September and then to $1, 895 in September 2008. The two-step phase-in was contrary to the advice of Burton, who recommended a one-time increase.

Commissioner Peter Dalacos objected to tripling fees so quickly. "We can't hit people with a triple impact fee, " he said. "You can't live in a house without water. It puts people over a barrel."

The new fee will apply only to projects that have not yet been permitted by the city. But commissioners agreed, 4-1, to phase in the fee at Dalacos' request.

Saenger, the only no vote, said she didn't see the point in phasing in the new fee instead of doing the one-time increase that Burton recommended.

"I love people coming to Tarpon, " she said, "but they need to pay their way."

Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or 727 445-4167.

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What's next

A final vote on tripling the water impact fee will be taken June 5.