Members of the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will brainstorm ways to fund road building and other infrastructure improvement projects after voters rejected a referendum that would have levied a 1/2-cent sales tax.
During her presentation at their Nov. 29 regular meeting, Deputy County Administrator Tobey Phillips told the BOCC that funds derived from the sales tax would have specifically funded road widening projects. Among the roads in need of widening are County Line, Lockhart, Kettering, and Sunshine Grove. The county has also identified needed improvements to Anderson Snow Road and Corporate Boulevard and other congestion management projects.
On Nov. 8, voters came out against the referendum by a 42,551 to 35,071 margin.
“Obviously, the sales tax initiative was brought up because (the County) needs transportation funding primarily,” County Administrator Jeff Rogers told the panel after the presentation. “The citizens said that sales tax is not a good idea, so if you want to move forward on some of these projects – which I believe you are pretty far behind already – you have to look at alternative revenue sources.”
According to Rogers, generally, road projects are funded by impact fees paid by developers, transportation grants which require the county to provide a funding match, and by a designated revenue source.
“Historically, we haven’t had a revenue source for transportation projects in the county,” Rogers said.
Instead of paying a sales tax, county residents at pre-election presentations told Rogers they wanted to see impact fees rise.
“The biggest comment I got out there was ‘why we don’t charge a higher impact fee?’” Rogers said. “Why isn’t the impact fee higher on (incoming developers and businesses) before we charge the citizens here more?”
Even so, the notion of increasing impact fees raised concerns among some members of the board.
“You should just call it an impact tax because that’s what it is, and I personally am not a fan of raising taxes, especially in this economic environment,” said Commissioner Jerry Campbell. “But I am open to the discussion.”
Some board members worried that increasing the impact fees would negatively affect the County’s current residential development market.
Cliff Manuel, president of Coastal Engineering, said it probably would not.
“You’re talking about local builders,” Manuel said. “National builders (such as Pulte) do not look at impact fees as a determent. In fact, they are often used to build local roads – if a project is being built in an area and there is a specific need for roads to support the project, they will turn to county transportation impact fees.”
Finally, BOCC Chairman John Allocco called for all potential revenue sources to be considered at a public workshop dedicated to infrastructure funding.
“Let’s put it all on the table,” Allocco said. “We’re going to have a workshop that is strictly Hernando County Commissioners and have Scott Herring (Director of Public Works/County Engineer) explain to us where he sees the needs really are.”
He also called on Rogers to provide all projected project expenses for BOCC members’ review.
At the same time, Allocco blamed the origin of the sales tax referendum for its failure.
“I thought that this (the sales tax) was the best plan – the difference was that it was not brought to us by the community. It was brought to us by the board,” Allocco said. “What needs to happen if this ever comes back: the community needs to own it. It needs to be a citizen initiative.”
The workshop will be open to the public, but its exact date has yet to be determined.