Tampa Bay Times: Hernando commission delays action on impact fees, mining study

January 16, 2015

 Friday, January 16th, 2015

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015 12:09pm

Coal sits piled ready to fuel the kiln at the Brooksville South Cemex Plant. Cemex wants to mine a site west of Brooksville.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times (2011)

Coal sits piled ready to fuel the kiln at the Brooksville South Cemex Plant. Cemex wants to mine a site west of Brooksville.

BROOKSVILLE — Faced with several contentious issues regarding Hernando County’s future development, the County Commission this week decided more study was needed before making two key decisions.

On the possibility of lifting a moratorium on some impact fees, a majority of the commission voted to delay a decision for another two months, prompting the lone Democrat, Commissioner Diane Rowden, to proclaim that her colleagues were simply stalling.

Rowden also was the only commissioner to protest when the board decided that, instead of having an independent economic impact study done on the proposed Cemex mining proposal west of Brooksville, county staffers will analyze a statewide report on lime rock mining done by the state Department of Transportation to see if that would serve the same purpose.

Two proposed ordinances regarding impact fees were before the board Tuesday. One covered the impact fees levied on new home construction to cover the cost of growth to the school system. School impact fees, which have been suspended since November 2011, were proposed to be charged at the old rate of $4,266 for a single family home.

That rate wasn’t supposed to kick in until May, but the proposed ordinance would have moved up the date to Jan. 20.

The second ordinance covered road impact fees to pay for the effects of growth on transportation. In April 2013, the commission approved a $2,537 impact fee for single-family homes, but delayed implementation twice, finally deciding to let it take effect in June.

That date also would have been moved up to Jan. 20 had commissioners not decided on another delay.

Familiar arguments were presented during the public comment portion of the debate, with builders, Realtors and other business interests arguing that the fees would stymie the small increases they have begun to see in home building. Taxpaying residents argued that they didn’t want to be burdened with the cost of infrastructure projects caused by new construction.

Schools superintendent Lori Romano and School Board member Mark Johnson each appealed to the commission by explaining that money that should be used in classrooms is paying down debt and that the failure of voters to renew the School District’s sales tax, which is costing the district millions, will force difficult choices for school leaders in the near future.

Rowden made a motion to approve the school impact fees, but she got no second. Instead, the commission took two votes, one to delay school impact fees and one to delay road impact fees. The issues will be the topic of two separate workshops and will finally return to the board in March. In the meantime, Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he would continue to work to find a method to have the fees phased in over a number of years so they wouldn’t stop anyone from buying a new home.

Several weeks ago, commissioners gave their consent to conduct an economic impact study before they take a final vote on whether to allow Cemex to mine more than 500 acres currently set aside as residential property north of Cortez Boulevard and south of Fort Dade Avenue, just west of Brooksville.

But after that discussion, Dukes said he questioned whether an economist who did a similar study in Levy County several years ago was the right person for the task. He said he examined a study on lime rock mining done by the Florida Department of Transportation, and it might be a better fit.

“DOT needs lime rock. They use lime rock,” so of course would recommend lime rock mining, Rowden argued. If there is a question about the person who did the study in Levy, ask for an independent study by the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council, she suggested.

A majority of the commission voted instead to have county staff examine the DOT study to see if it is valid to consider as part of the mining hearing, which is expected in the spring.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

© 2015 Tampa Bay Times

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