Here is today’s question:
Would the average Citrus County person say the growth we’re experiencing is out of the ordinary?
Most would say yes, of course, it is. The property appraiser is estimating the taxable value of the county increased 10.6% over the last year. That is a huge number and we can see the reason everywhere we turn.
So, yeah, our growth in new homes and businesses is indeed not ordinary.
But is it extraordinary?
That’s an even bigger question and the answer will determine whether Citrus County has a chance to meet its ever-increasing road capacity needs.
The County Commission has a workshop Tuesday morning to discuss using a loophole in state law to increase transportation impact fees.
Before going any further, let’s be clear. The county needed this money yesterday. Groundbreaking on the C.R. 491 widening, I’m told, will occur very late this year. Beyond that, the county’s next major road-widening needs are Croft Avenue and C.R. 491 north of Beverly Hills.
Far as I’m concerned, this isn’t about need. Citrus County definitely has a need to gather as much money as it can to do these road projects or we’re all going to be in a world of hurt.
So what’s the big deal? Just increase impact fees and let’s move on.
If only it were that simple. Let’s talk about it.
Impact fees first came on the scene right around the time I moved to Florida 36 years ago. The concept is simple: one-time charges on new construction to offset the impacts of growth. Impact fees would help pay for schools, widening roads, sheriff’s equipment for new deputies, new ambulances and the like. Here’s a list of the current fees.
The state-mandated process for adding or changing impact fees is complicated and the report with Tuesday's agenda explains it better than me. Just know that a government can’t increase impact fees whenever it feels like it unless there’s an extraordinary reason to do so.
The county commission is taking a rather unusual step — first time I’ve seen it — in justifying a bump in transportation impact fees under the premise that it has “extraordinary needs.”
As a government geek, I’m somewhat fascinated by this approach. The county hired a consultant who reported — surprise! — the county indeed has “extraordinary needs” that allow for doubling the transportation impact fee.
I read the report and have a few observations:
— The study points to three reasons why the county fits the “extraordinary needs” definition:
Agree with all three, but didn’t we sort of see this coming? I certainly hope none of the five county commissioners sitting in office today are surprised by what’s going on out there.
— The county anticipates 1,500 new home permits annually over the next six years. That’s about 10,000 new houses by 2030. Chew on that for a minute.
— We know about the C.R. 491 widening in Lecanto and the decades-long plan to widen Croft. But let’s be real about the C.R. 491 widening between Forest Ridge Boulevard and State Road 200, which the report says the county has on its plans for $165 million.
The County Commission has not had a detailed conversation about that section of C.R. 491. To say the county has "planned" anything out there is, at best, a stretch.
It’s frankly a little disappointing to see the county resort to this tactic, but what else is it to do? We are facing unprecedented growth and there is tremendous pressure on commissioners to meet a host of needs, with road capacity topping the list.
While easy to blame past county commissions for being behind the 8-ball on growth, what we have is what we have.
Growth is exploding. Time for extraordinary action.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.