Smart planning contributes to our economic prosperity and overall quality of life. As the local governments in Hillsborough County are focused on immediate economic growth and job creation, the Planning Commission's top priority is leveraging the planning process to maximize the impact on economic growth sooner than later. This departure from the longer term focus of more traditional comprehensive planning is an opportunity to demonstrate the positive impact of planning in our daily lives. As noted in Issue 25 of The Weekly Planner, projects intended to promote economic growth by creating a more efficient development review process, a new set of proposed Plan Amendments to the County's Comprehensive Plan, and changes to the County and Cities Procedures Manuals continue to move forward. But there is a call to action to get things rolling now.
So, what can be done to jump start the local economy from a planning perspective? Short term exceptions or incentives can be instituted without abandoning the long term vision of our community described in the Comprehensive Plans. Businesses and residents will only choose to call Hillsborough County home if we can provide the types of choices in our community associated with a high standard quality of life. Temporary fee waivers can offer a job creation incentive now without permanently saddling the citizens with subsidizing growth. Keeping the burden off of the taxpayers is imperative and why we plan for focused, balanced and efficient growth.
As new development moves into an area, there are increased demands on governmental services like roads, schools, fire/rescue and police. Impact fees are charges assessed against new development to address the cost of providing needed capital facilities to serve the development. They are a financial tool to reduce the gap between the cost of building these new public facilities and the money available for that purpose. They help ensure existing residents do not bear these costs. For this reason, consideration could be given to temporary waiver of fees for a two year period only for:
- Impact fees (excluding schools)
- Application fees
- Legal notice fees
Can the taxpayers afford to bear this cost in the long term? Absolutely not. Can we afford not to incentivize economic growth in the short term? Absolutely not. Do we need to leverage this strategy to our greatest advantage? Absolutely.
Furthermore, exceptions or waivers can be isolated to specific conditions or circumstances without the taxpayers obligated to write a blank check. For example, qualified projects should be 'shovel-ready' if they are going to create jobs now. Industrial clusters as identified in the Locational Assessment and Recommended Strategic Plan for Economic Growth completed in 2010 for the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (EDC) should be the focus as discussed in Issue 23 of The Weekly Planner. Boosting incentives temporarily in targeted locations like Westshore or the USF area, with the planning, zoning, utilities, and roads in place, to expedite migration of high-paying career opportunities in:
In December 2010, Lee County did just that with a resolution to temporarily waive or reduce fees in targeted areas - change-of-use fees and medical office impact fees - to stimulate job growth in the higher-paying sector and to make use of vacant commercial, office and industrial space. They also focused on performance-based programs to attract and grow high-value business projects and promote broad-based prosperity in their community. In May 2011, Orange County approved a temporary reduction of impact fees for roads, law enforcement, fire/rescue, parks/recreation and schools. Their Office of Economic Development focuses on diversifying the local economy, attracting desirable industries and streamlining regulatory processes. Our neighbors in St. Petersburg continue economic development by tweaking their codes and zoning to be more user-friendly, while maintaining beautification standards to create value. It's important that we don't lower our standards.
Other counties in Florida have successfully instituted a temporary reduction in impact fees to drive their economic growth momentum without losing sight of their long term vision. When a city is attractive, it attracts economic development. Let's do our best to make the Tampa - Hillsborough County area a magnet for economic prosperity while ensuring quality growth!