New fees adopted Tuesday by Hillsborough County commissioners seemed acceptable to many developers while ensuring a guaranteed new source of money for transportation projects.
The so-called mobility fees are based on traffic generated by new developments and the cost of construction to build roads to handle the traffic. In answer to complaints by small business owners, the overall fee structure, after a five-year ramp-up, will be 90 percent of what the county could have charged under a state-approved formula.
“I think the commission has been making clear that we need new sources of transportation funds,” said Jake Cremer, a land-use lawyer who spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting. “I think they delivered tonight. I think the staff did a real good job working with the development community and coming up with something everyone can live with.”
The county staff agreed to come down from the original 100 percent after commissioners expressed sticker shock at how high the additional costs would be, especially for smaller businesses such as drive-through restaurants, child care centers and medical clinics.
The fees will start at 40 percent of the maximum in the year starting Jan. 1. They will then increase in increments — 50 percent in the second year, 70 percent in the third year, 80 percent in the fourth year and 90 percent in year five.
They will remain at 90 percent unless the commission changes the fee structure. Under an amendment proposed by Commissioner Sandy Murman, the county administration will provide a yearly review of the fees and how much revenue they produce.
The decrease to 90 percent of the maximum will be largely offset by indexing periodically to account for increases in the cost of construction, said Lucia Garsys, the county’s chief administrator for infrastructure and development.
Garsys said the reason for the five-year phase-in was to give businesses time to adjust to paying more than they did under the old impact-fee system.
“It’s a balancing act,” Garsys said. “We haven’t raised impact fees in 25 or 28 years. We really did believe there needed to be an appropriate ramp-up period.”
The commission started with two schedules for increasing the fees — one with a proposed half-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase for transportation and a schedule if the tax does not pass. With the tax in effect, developers will get a mobility fee credit for the additional money they spend in sales taxes.
Commissioners will vote tonight on whether to put the proposed tax increase to voters on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The commission approved an amendment from Commissioner Stacy White to have one ramp-up schedule that started at 40 percent of the full formula instead of 30 percent. White said he was concerned that if the fees started at too low a level, and the sales tax doesn’t pass, the money available for transportation under the new mobility fee structure would actually be lower than under the existing impact fees.
“I’m especially concerned about that first year,” White said. “We’re going to end up with less revenue than we have under the current system.”
Even with the 10 percent across-the-board reduction, the mobility fees represent a dramatic increase in what developers will pay for the transportation impact from their projects. For instance, the fees on a single-family home 1,500 square feet to 2,500 square feet would go from $1,792 now to $4,967 in an urban area and to $7,535 in a rural zone.
Fees for a day-care center, 1,000 square feet in size, will go from $1,500 to $9,337 in an urban setting and to $11,604 in a rural zone.
The disparities between fees in urban and rural zones is to encourage construction in areas where sewer, water and other infrastructure are already in place, discouraging urban sprawl.
In the end, the new fees passed on a unanimous 7-0 vote.
Some business people in the audience were not happy. Valrico real estate broker Colin Campbell said certain fees would increase by more than 270 percent and hurt commercial real estate. Campbell asked that the county staff adjust the rates on developments on a case-by-case basis.
Jack Kemp of Odessa said he is a fast-food operator with several locations in central Florida and predicted the fees will curtail development in Hillsborough County. Kemp said he will probably look elsewhere for new sites.
“I created 1,300 jobs,” he said. “I won’t be able to create any more jobs here in Hillsborough County if this passes.”