The Pasco County Commission has set into motion the process for boosting school impact fees, which are charged against new residential construction to help pay for new schools.
Commissioners directed county staff to set up a hearing before the Development Review Committee and to establish two public hearing dates on a proposal to boost school impact fees.
In pushing the issue forward, commissioners rejected a recommendation by the School Infrastructure Funding Committee, which they had appointed to study funding needs and potential revenue sources for school construction.
That committee recommended the County Commission adopt the full impact fee recommended by a school district consultant, provided the Pasco County School Board votes to put at least a quarter-cent sales tax on the 2018 ballot, so voters can decide the issue.
County commissioners didn’t like that idea.
“I’m not very keen on the recommendation for this board to attempt to almost hijack the process, or tie the school board’s hands by forcing them to go out and raise the sales tax. That makes me uncomfortable,” Commission Chairman Mike Moore said.
“It’s not my job as a county commissioner to tell the school board members what they should do,” Moore said. “I do not want them to feel that we’re forcing them to do something.”
Commissioner Mike Wells agreed: “I don’t think we should tell them what to do.”
Wells also agreed with Commissioners Kathryn Starkey and Jack Mariano, who said the board needs to help the school district to tackle the need for new schools.
“We’ve got to help our youth. It comes down to ‘What’s the amount?’,’” Wells said.
Starkey, a former school board member, said, “I believe the school district needs help. It’s unfortunate that our state is, in my opinion, not funding needs at an adequate level, and I guess now it comes to the local government to help schools.”
Mariano added: “I think it’s clear that everyone agrees they need the full fee.”
The new fee would be tiered, based on the square footage of a house.
As it stands now, the proposed school impact fee would be $7,539 for a house with less than 1,500 square feet; $9,785 for a house larger than 1,500 square feet, but less than 2,500 square feet; and $12,028 for a residence exceeding 2,500 square feet.
The ordinance also would include a provision that allows the fee to go up or down each year, based on construction costs.
Those figures are subject to change, based on the County Commission’s vote after the Development Review Committee’s meeting and the two public hearings.
Any new impact fee would take effect 90 days after approval by the County Commission.
Even if the county adopts the highest rate, school district officials estimate a $284 million shortfall in revenue needed for capital construction during the next decade.
The district says that the impact fees would be used to build Cypress Creek Middle, Starkey Ranch Kindergarten through Eighth Grade, a high school with a location to be determined and an elementary school in the Wesley Chapel area.
The district is already feeling the squeeze and conditions are expected to worsen, as an estimated 20,000 students are projected to arrive in the district during the next 10 years.
Some relief is expected, as Bexley Elementary and Cypress Creek Middle High are set to open in the fall.
But, as residential growth continues to march through Pasco, the school district will have to come up with additional revenues to pay for schools needed to accommodate increased enrollment, said Ray Gadd, deputy superintendent for Pasco County Schools. Boosting impact fees is only part of the solution, he said.
Published May 10, 2017