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Hernando School Board agrees to accept loss of impact fees

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando School District agreed Tuesday to absorb a loss of more than a half-million dollars in impact fee revenue for one year to try to kick-start the local economy.

That's the message that three members of the School Board agreed to send to the County Commission, which will decide next week whether to roll back impact fees to 2001 levels for at least one year — essentially cutting them in half.

School district staffers have estimated that could cost some $630,000 this year and at least that much if not more in each of the next few years.

Impact fees are one-time payments on new construction aimed at offsetting growth's impact on services. The district uses the revenue to buy land and build schools and additions to increase student capacity.

Local builders have lobbied the commission to put a moratorium on — or at least reduce — impact fees to motivate people to start building homes and businesses again.

"It's going to be a trial but I think it's worth helping the community if we can," School Board member Pat Fagan said.

Board members Sandra Nicholson and Dianne Bonfield were absent Tuesday. Nicholson was in Orlando for a meeting of a state education committee on middle school math curriculum; Bonfield was ill.

At a previous workshop, Bonfield had been the lone voice against the move, saying the district's finances need to be the board's first priority.

Fagan, Chairman John Sweeney and member James Yant were concerned, however, about a part of the proposed county ordinance that would require impact fees to be collected at the time a certificate of occupancy is issued rather than when a building permit is pulled, as is the case now.

Board members feared that would make it less likely the district would receive the money in timely manner and could risk losing the revenue altogether if the building is not occupied.

They agreed to urge the County Commission to craft the ordinance so that the school district's portion would still be collected at the time the permit is pulled.

Board members said they doubted that supporting the reduction for 12 months would mean sacrificing as much as staff had projected.

Amber Wheeler, the district's manager of growth planning and management, hinted that such logic might be flawed. "This past year was one of the worst years we've had and we still collected a significant amount of impact fees," she said.

The district collected about $1.3 million in impact fees last fiscal year and so far has collected about $200,000 from the start of this fiscal year in July through September.

"So we're on pace for considerably less than last year," said Sweeney, who offered his own hypothetical formula. "If they build twice as many houses we'll collect the same amount of money. Maybe this could all work out, and we'll see."

During Tuesday's workshop, staff noted impact fee revenue is also used to pay $1.9 million a year in debt service. Losing that revenue would mean raiding the district's capital improvement fund — funded from a 1.5 mill property tax levy — to pay that debt service, leaving less money to maintain the district's existing facilities, chief financial officer Desiree Henegar warned.

The board also approved moving forward with $1.47 million in roofing repairs and other structural improvements at Central High School — a project that will be paid for with money from the capital improvement fund. The Central roofing project would be done in two phases in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 budget years.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or at (352) 584-5537.

Hernando School Board agrees to accept loss of impact fees 11/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 7:56pm]
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