Pasco officials take tough stance on fees
By JAMES THORNER
© St. Petersburg Times,
Pasco County has borne the taunts from opponents of the county's seemingly unstoppable suburbanization.
But the county seems set on challenging popular opinion with a vengeance.
New fees and taxes, both approved and proposed, would raise the price of a home more than $3,000, equaling or surpassing fees charged to new home buyers in the rest of the Tampa Bay region.
February's passage of a $1,694-per-new-home school impact fee was the spark that promises to ignite a blaze.
County officials have since floated the idea of a $892-per-new home fee for parks, a nearly $400-per-home library impact fee, and a yet-undetermined impact fee for police and fire stations.
That's not all. County commissioners took the first step last month in creating a new property tax to pay for parks.
The proposed municipal service taxing unit, or MSTU, would amount to 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property. The owner of a house valued at $100,000, minus the $25,000 homestead exemption, would pay another $18.75 a year.
There's more: This summer, Pasco will begin selling voters on a new 1 percent sales tax, dubbed "Penny for Pasco." The hope is to place the sales tax issue before the voters during a November 2002 referendum.
"My philosophy is that new growth should pay for itself," said county administrator John Gallagher, who has spent more than a year warning developers to beware of new fees. "Existing residents shouldn't have to pay for new growth."
Pasco's waning allure as an inexpensive suburban oasis doesn't please the local building industry.
During their losing effort to delay the school impact fee, builders complained they would bear an unfair burden of the cost of building classrooms. They already have raised some of the same arguments during the parks fee debate.
Impact fees are one-time charges to pay for public amenities that builders pass on to home buyers.
Builders fear sticker shock from climbing fees could send potential new home buyers skipping north to the less expensive Hernando and Citrus counties.
"In other counties where they've been implemented, it's slowed growth," said Nita Beckwith, director of the Pasco Building Association.
But that's typically been okay with much of the Pasco public, whose common sentiment is that there are too many people moving here anyway.
"I think the public is lapping up impact fees. It's okay to lay all the burden on the new people coming in," county commissioner Peter Altman said.
But Altman wants to shift part of that burden to people using existing overcrowded ball fields.
The impact fee is expected to raise $20-million over 10 years, only half of the $40-million consultants say Pasco needs to spend on parks. Thus Altman's proposal last week for the MSTU, which could fill the funding gap.
"I want new home buyers to pay for growth, but we can't make them pay for the deficiencies that are out there now," Altman said.
Including the proposed $892 park fee, total impact fees for new, single-family homes in Pasco would total $6,806.
Potential impact fees for libraries and emergency services would push the total higher. And commissioners will soon hire a consultant to help decide how much to increase the existing $2,177 road impact fee.
Impact fee totals are $7,521 in Hillsborough County, $5,065 in Hernando County and $4,204 in Pinellas County.
Gallagher stresses that comparisons with Pinellas are unfair. Pinellas pays for public works projects with its 1 percent "Penny for Pinellas" sales tax.
Yet this summer Gallagher's staff will hit the road to sell residents on the county's Penny for Pasco.
Even Altman admits that trying to pass such a long train of impact fees and new taxes within about 11/2 years may be pushing luck too far.
Penny for Pasco would pay for many of the same projects -- libraries, schools, parks and roads -- that the county targets with impact fees.
"Penny for Pasco, some people have told me, could be hurt by the MSTU initiative. That's a good argument," Altman said. "Lets give the public a little taste of what they can get with Penny for Pasco and then they can have a choice."
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