A discussion has begun in Pasco County that could lead to higher impact fees paid by new residential development to address growing demands for school construction.
Increased school impact fees might provide a source of revenue that could help plug the growing gap between the revenue the district receives and its construction needs, according to district officials.
But the idea of an increased school impact fee is a long way from reality.
Any increase would have to be recommended by the Pasco School Board and adopted by the Pasco County Commission.
The last time the school board sought a school impact fee increase in 2007 it fell flat.
The current rate is $4,356 per single-family unit. A recommendation was made in 2007 to increase the single-family home impact feet to $8,606.
That proposed increase was rejected.
No new rate has been proposed yet, but the district has hired Tischler Bise, to conduct an impact fee update study.
Tischler Bise has done work on these issues for a number of Florida school districts, including DeSoto, Lee, Manatee and Seminole counties. It also did the Pasco school district’s study in 2007.
Carson Bise of Tischler Bise gave school board members an overview of the current situation at a July 7 workshop.
The district’s school construction funding has been declining for a variety of reasons, Bise said.
Property value declines have led to lower revenues, he said. For instance, in 2007-2008, the district received $42.3 million for capital projects, compared to the $32.4 million in 2014-2015, Bise said.
Other sources of state funding have been cut drastically, or eliminated entirely, he added.
The sluggish economy also reduced Penny for Pasco proceeds, Bise said.
The first time the optional penny sales tax passed, the school district’s share yielded $145.1 million.
The second penny, which took effect in 2015, is expected to generate about $226 million. But, that money cannot be spent on new school construction. It can only be spent on maintenance and new technology.
School impact fees, which are collected only from new residential development, can be spent to purchase land, to buy buses, furniture and portables, to construct facilities or for debt service.
As of the end of 2014, the district has collected $120 million in school impact fees.
Since 2002, however, the district has built 22 new schools at a cost of $301 million, Bise said.
Oakstead Elementary, Dr. John Long Middle, Double Branch Elementary, Charles S. Rushe Middle, Wiregrass Ranch High, Sunlake High, New River Elementary, Veterans Elementary, Watergrass Elementary and Connerton Elementary schools are the new schools that have opened in The Laker/Lutz News’ coverage area since 2002.
Elementary School W in Wiregrass Ranch is slated to open in 2016, and Elementary B in Bexley Ranch South and High School GGG on Old Pasco Road are scheduled to open in 2017.
Bise told officials that impact fee revenue must earmark money for specific capital projects, which encourages disciplined capital improvement planning.
He also noted that the revenues help to ensure adequate public facilities, which is a plus for homebuilders who are seeking to attract buyers to a particular market.
“In our experience, the smart developers like impact fees because it (the fee) guarantees that they’re going to be in business,” Bise said. “They get the fact that having a great school system, or a great road network or a great park system makes the community attractive and makes their product marketable, and also helps from an economic development perspective, as well.”
It’s not difficult to see that more schools will be needed, as growth ramps up in Pasco County.
During a discussion of the district’s construction plan, immediately prior to the impact fee workshop, school board member Alison Crumbley voiced concerns about providing schools for children who will be living in the new subdivisions that are on the drawing boards, or sprouting up in the county’s State Road 54/State Road 56 corridor.
Superintendent Kurt Browning echoed those sentiments.
Even without that new construction, the district is feeling the squeeze.
This fall, Wiregrass Ranch High School is expected to have around 2,500 students. It is going to a 10-period day to help manage the number of students on its campus. The entire student body will be there just three periods of the day, with the impacts lessened because roughly 500 of those students will be eating lunch during any particular time.
Deputy Superintendent Ray Gadd told school board members that district already is making efforts to ensure that the building community is part of the impact fee discussion.
Bise also reminded school board members that even their support would not be enough.
“Although you are your own taxing entity, you don’t control your destiny in terms of impact fees. The Board of County Commissioners sets that rate for you,” he said.
He also noted that Florida is the only state where his firm does impact fee studies where that’s the case.
Published July 22, 2015