Saturday, August 18, 2018
Education

County, builders reach compromise on impact fee increase for Pasco schools

DADE CITY — The monthslong back and forth over how to pay for new schools took a timeout Tuesday after the Pasco County School District, the Tampa Bay Builders Association and the county's legal staff negotiated a three-year, $3,500 increase in the charge for new single-family homes.

The accord, reached on the eve of a County Commission public hearing on the impact fee ordinance, prompted the commission to delay its final vote until August to meet legal advertising requirements.

But all five commissioners voiced support for the higher fee.

"I agree with this compromise, and I think this will be the best thing for our county," Commissioner Ronald Oakley said.

"I think there's nothing more important than a strong, healthy, vibrant school district," said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, a former School Board member.

The school district had sought an 85 percent increase of the impact fee to $9,028, while the builders advocated for a 47 percent jump to $7,176. The current fee is $4,876 per single-family home. The compromise — which will bring the fee to $8,358 — came after several days of each side turning up the political heat.

The builders group set up a website objecting to the size the "tax on growth," but overstated the amount of the proposed increase by more than $1,000. It urged county residents to email commissioners.

The district countered with an email blast to thousands of employees and a video by superintendent Kurt Browning critical of "false information" from the builders. It also tweeted that "builders pass fees onto new homebuyers, pocket the profit & skip town."

In the end, the district accepted the builders' proposed fee increase of $2,300 as the basis for first-year funding. The fee will increase $600 each of the following two years to bring the total amount to $8,358 per single-family home starting Jan. 1, 2020. Plans for a sliding-scale fee based on the size of a home were scrapped.

At the end of the phase-in, the impact fee equates to 92 percent of the total requested by the school district. Impact fees are one-time charges on new construction to help offset the new infrastructure needed to accommodate growth.

"We didn't get everything we wanted, but neither did the builders," deputy superintendent Ray Gadd told commissioners.

"This is a fair and reasonable solution," said Stew Gibbons of Connerton, a member of the impact fee advisory committee.

Tuesday's public hearing drew an overflow crowd that included four Pasco School Board members, Browning and his top administrators, and former state Sen. John Legg. Thirteen speakers addressed the commission, many of whom panned the proposal.

Representatives of the Bay Area Apartment Association complained about what they called a disparity in the fee increase for new apartments. Meanwhile, numerous parents suggested that the fee increase under the compromise was insufficient.

"If you vote yes, you're compromising our children's education," said Anthony Perugini of Wesley Chapel, who criticized the impact fee advisory committee for including builders who don't live in the county. "Their concern is the bottom line and not the quality of education my son receives."

The higher fee is projected to raise $220 million over the next decade for school construction, a little less than half of which will be generated by the fee increase. Even with a higher fee, the district's 10-year capital plan has a deficit topping $280 million.

The public hearing and final commission vote are scheduled for Aug. 15 in Dade City.

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