Commissioner sounds alarm on meager Hillsborough developer fees, unchanged since 1987


By Christopher O’Donnell, Times Staff Writer

Published: October 18, 2018


TAMPA — If a developer wants to tear up more than 100 acres in Manatee County, it costs $20,000 to submit an application.

In Pasco County, the fee is $7,000 and it’s $17,500 in Broward County.

But Hillsborough County would only charge the developer $1,000, a fee unchanged since 1987.

The fees are levied when developers want to build on land in a way that doesn’t meet current guidelines. It is supposed to cover the cost of certified county planners reviewing the proposal.

But Hillsborough’s fees are set so “appallingly low” that taxpayers have been effectively subsidizing developers for decades, Commissioner Pat Kemp said Wednesday.

That conclusion is backed by a consultant’s report that estimates the county is losing $3,000 on every application, based on the cost of staff hours. The county has handled 47 applications this year.

Even if the county had just raised fees based on inflation, it would at least be collecting an extra $1,300 per application, the report shows. But the Hillsborough City-County Planning Commission, which paid $24,700 for the 2016 study, has yet to issue any recommendations for fee hikes.

Pinellas County also charges less than some of its neighbors, the report shows, with a maximum fee of just $3,240 for projects of 15 acres or more.

Kemp on Wednesday called for fellow commissioners to take action and raise the fees to at least cover the cost of staff time.

“These have not been raised since the Berlin Wall was standing,” Kemp said. “If this is how long the process takes, maybe we’ll be another decade before we do something.”

Kemp, however, found little support from other commissioners who said that if fees do need to be raised, it should be done as part of next year’s budget with feedback from developers and the public.

“We need to bring this back at another time where we can spend and devote the time on it,” said commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman. “This affects a lot of people.”

There also was concern that higher fees would dampen the county’s booming real estate industry.

“At the end of the day, whatever fees we charge are going to be passed onto the home buyer,” Commissioner Victor Crist said. “Right now, we’re enjoying high sales volumes. That’s important in keeping the workforce moving forward.”

Commissioners voted to consider fees as part of an evaluation into whether there is duplication between the county’s development services department and the Hillsborough City-County Planning Commission. The latter handles requests from developers for projects that require rezoning or a change to the county’s comprehensive plan.

That includes applications for land in Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace, for which the fee is also $1,000. Those fees are typically set by the municipalities based on recommendations from the planning commission.

The analysis is not simple. The impact on neighboring properties, the area’s water and sewer systems, schools and law enforcement resources must be considered. Some applications must also be reviewed by the county’s Environmental Protection Commission and possibly Tampa International Airport.

Those that could impact Port Tampa Bay also get extra scrutiny, for which a $150 port fee is charged. Consultants said that does not come close to covering the cost of additional staff time, which they estimated at about $1,500.

Planning Commission Executive Director Melissa Zornitta said that user fees are not always based on the cost of processing applications.

Since the consultant’s report was completed in December 2016, the planning commission has been working on implementing recommendations from a University of South Florida efficiency study.

“If we’re going to look at fees, we need to make sure our processes are the best we can be,” Zornitta said.