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Joe Henderson: Hillsborough County impact fee increase was long overdue

The county’s rate hadn’t changed since 1985 while runaway growth strained transportation and school funding.

Something astonishing happened Wednesday at the Hillsborough County Commission. By a pair of 6-1 votes, commissioners approved two major increases in the county’s impact fees and, well, knock me over with a feather.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever see this day. The fees, charged to builders to help pay for roads, schools, and other necessities caused by construction, haven’t changed since 1985.

But Hillsborough has.

About 765,000 people lived in Hillsborough back then compared to about 1.4 million today. New housing projects have sprouted on seemingly every patch of green grass in the county. Big box stores popped up on every corner.

School construction couldn’t keep up with the influx of students.

People had to live with the effects of that suffocating growth. Simple commutes turned into ordeals because of clogged roads, and schools became over-stuffed.

Everyone has known about this problem for a while. But for years, the Republican-controlled Commission found ways to avoid dealing with those issues.

We got the first hint in March that there was a new attitude on the Commission. It doubled the impact fee it assessed builders to help pay for school construction. The need was obvious. Many schools are over or near capacity.

Even the new Sumner High School in Riverview, scheduled to open in August, is in that category. It could be over its capacity 2,900-student capacity on the first day.

The increased fees will generate an estimated $30 million annually for the school district.

The Board’s action Wednesday doubled down on that move. The Tampa Bay Times reported that the park impact fee for a typical 2,000 square foot single-family home jumps from $388 to $3,300. The mobility fee that helps pay for transportation improvements also increases significantly.

Those extra costs will be phased in.

Yes, it will make new houses more expensive because those costs will be passed on to buyers.

One negative is that it could make apartment rentals more expensive, too. Apartment construction is surging in Hillsborough and the fee increase on future buildings will likely result in higher rent.

If Hillsborough lawmakers hadn’t ignored or rationalized their way out of dealing with the problem over the years, builders might not be hit with sticker shock. Nobody likes extra fees but allowing runaway growth without a way to pay for the impact of that growth is not sustainable.

Hillsborough’s fees are now more in line with neighboring counties like Pasco. And well, Pasco’s impact rate hasn’t stifled growth, but it has allowed officials there to better keep up.

People will keep coming to Florida. Projections for Hillsborough’s growth over the next 25 years are jaw-dropping. Projections call for more than 700,000 people to move to Hillsborough by 2045.

Maybe now the county will be better prepared for that.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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