How should the burden of paying for the cost of growth be distributed?

The Volusia County Council at its meeting last week discussed impact fees — primarily, it seemed, to dismiss both the subject and those who would connect it to a proposed half-cent sales tax.

The question of whether impact fees should be increased to help cover the costs of the area’s current growth surge was placed on the agenda at the request of Councilwoman Deb Denys. The county’s rates on impact fees haven’t changed since 2003, except for when the fees were briefly suspended in 2011 and 2013 following the Great Recession. Five years ago, as the local economy was still recovering, officials contemplated doubling the fees, but nothing came of it. However, Denys noted in January that “the economy is a lot different than five years ago.”

Indeed, as commercial and residential development is booming, the county says it lacks sufficient revenue to keep pace with maintaining infrastructure — roads, drainage, fire services, etc. County and municipal officials support asking voters in November to approve adding a half-cent to the sales tax dedicated to meeting the community’s needs.

(READ: Despite growth, Volusia holds line on impact fees)

But what of existing methods of accommodating growth, such as impact fees? Those are surcharges that local governments add to new construction that help pay for the infrastructure needs they generate. Many of the costs of impact fees are passed from developers to consumers, such as in the price of a new house. Other costs are paid up front by developers. Neighboring Seminole and Orange counties recently increased their impact fees in response to rapid growth.

Volusia County residents are questioning whether an increase in local impact fees should complement a hike in the sales tax, or supplant the proposal altogether.

At the council’s Feb. 6 meeting, Clay Ervin, the county’s director of growth and resource management, gave a lengthy presentation on the local history of impact fees, how they are calculated and other mechanisms associated with them. Then council members and county administrators took turns explaining why increasing the fees would be a bad idea.

Some worried that doing so might make housing too expensive for many buyers — a legitimate concern. Others argued impact fees aren’t as reliable a source of revenue as the sales tax would be, or that a higher rate wouldn’t generate enough money to justify the increase.

What was particularly annoying, though, was the attitude expressed toward those who dared link impact fees to the sales tax.

“That’s getting way out of line in trying to compare the two at this point,” Councilman Pat Patterson said.

County Deputy Attorney Jamie Seaman blamed public ignorance on how impact fees are calculated for tying the two issues together.

The whole presentation, while informative from one side, seemed designed to remove impact fees from the equation, leaving the county’s preferred solution — the half-cent referendum — the sole focus.

When the county complains it lacks sufficient funds to maintain infrastructure, it’s not “way out of line” for taxpayers to examine all sources of revenue to determine the best course of action. It’s only inconvenient for those public officials who would prefer to control the terms of debate and set their own narrative.

How should the burden of paying for the cost of growth be distributed? It’s an important question that deserves a thorough discussion of all possibilities. The county won’t generate support for its half-cent by being dismissive of those who explore other solutions.