Following their support to increase impact fees for roads, schools and other services on developers in 2020, Hillsborough County Commissioners are poised on Wednesday to sunset a capacity fee for water and sewage that new homebuyers currently pay for – and instead make developers pay for those costs upfront.

What You Need To Know

  • Commissioner says many home buyers are surprised by the current infrastructure agreement

  • Tampa Bay Builders Association opposes change

  • Vote is at 10 a.m. Wednesday

  • More Politics headlines

County Commissioner Mariella Smith says that many home buyers in Hillsborough only learn about the infrastructure assessment when they’re about to close on their new home and discover that they’re on the hook for paying those fees for the next two decades.

“They build in a whole lot of fees and interest charges on top of that, so at the of the day the homebuyer ends up paying nearly twice the impact fee that the developer should have paid, and the county has to wait 20 years for that to finally get paid off, to get out money to pay for the water and sewer impacts of the development,” she says.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White agrees, saying that while the program has worked for a long time, “we’ve seen homes that have changed hands through sales and things like that and we’ve had some homeowners who were surprised by the assessment on their tax bills.”

Jennifer Motsinger is the executive vice-president with the Tampa Bay Builders Association, which opposes the change. 

“Thirty plus years ago when there was a lot of development going on in Brandon, the county was faced with a very similar problem that they’re facing today, and that’s water capacity issues,” she says. “So the industry came forward to help solve the problem because you can’t build homes if there’s no water to go into the homes.”

The answer was leveling the assessment on new homebuyers for water and sewage. 

Commissioner White says that made sense then, but doesn’t now.

When it comes to these infrastructure assessments, new homebuyers in Southern Hillsborough County actually pay more in these fees. That’s because the need for infrastructure improvements are greater in that region, Smith says.

“We’ve had so much development not paying their way and so pressure has actually been dropping in the faucets of residents in Southern Hillsborough County,” says Smith, adding that “we need to build more infrastructure to have booster stations, pipelines, building in more system to deliver more water with all of the development we’ve had down there, and we have not had the money to do that.”

In fact in an effort to improve water pressure in the region, the BOCC recently enacted a one-day-a-week watering restrictions protocol for its Southern Hillsborough County residential and commercial customers that could last until the end of next year. And in October, they purchased land in Southern Hillsborough County to build either a drinking water treatment plant or a drinking water transmission station, according to the Osprey Observer.

Smith and fellow Democratic commissioners Pat Kemp and Kimberly Overman have been on the same page in recent years on making developers pay what they say is their “fair share” for development. That’s why the development community spent large amounts of campaign cash last year against Kemp in her bid for reelection against Sandy Murman. Kemp won anyway.

Democrats now control the board with a 5-2 majority over Republicans, and one of them, Stacy White, is siding with them on taking a stand on this issue.

While Smith and her colleagues say that they believe in “smart growth,” Motsinger says it’s an “anti-growth” message that will hurt the local economy.

“You can’t stick your head in the sand,” she says. “You can’t close your eyes and say if we don’t build it, they won’t come. They’re coming. So the real thing to do is take the money that is there, whether it be in reserves or in future growth, and bond that money and pay for the infrastructure improvements so that the people today that are living here and struggling, can start to enjoy those improvements and address growth and not just kick the can down the road.”

Smith says she’s been speaking about these issues for years as a community and environmental activist, long before she was elected to the board in 2018. She says in this particular issue, she’s received emails from many constituents complaining about receiving a tax bill that “I later learned my developer was supposed to pay.

“This is being communicated to the commissioners and they’re understanding that this is something that the community wants,” she says.

The vote is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.