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Hernando School Board switches stance to back impact fee cut

BROOKSVILLE — They stopped short of supporting a moratorium on collecting impact fees, but School Board members did say Tuesday they are willing to go with a little less revenue.

The board voted 4 to 1 at its workshop to send that message to the County Commission. The commission, which sets impacts fees, is scheduled on Tuesday to discuss a temporary suspension of the one-time fees on new single-family home construction.

That result changes the board's position from just six months ago, when the members sent a letter to the county opposing a moratorium on the fees. Builders have insisted that a suspension would help give a much-needed boost to their industry.

The School Board agreed in theory to support a partial reduction in fees, though they didn't set any amount.

"I'd be willing to work with the builders until we can get the economy in better shape here in Hernando County," board member Pat Fagan said. "We've got to do something to help the community."

Bob Eaton, a past president of the Hernando Builders Association, pleaded with the board to help put builders and others in development back to work.

"The builders association is proposing this radical idea because we are in crisis and in radical times," Eaton said. "This is a tragedy for people's incomes and livelihoods."

The school district gets $4,200 for every single-family home, the largest share of impact fees. That is more than is allotted for roads, libraries and emergency services.

District staffers expressed reservations about forfeiting any money from the fees, which help fund land purchases, new school construction and renovations, and additions to existing schools.

The district brought in $6.9 million in impact fees last year. That's projected to drop to $1.4 million this year, chief financial officer Desiree Henegar told the board.

That is money that helps bolster the budget in a time of shrinking tax revenue, Henegar said, adding that impact fee revenue is also used to pay the district's debt service.

"If those funds go away that means millage funds would be used for that," Henegar said. "It would add a definite burden."

While the student enrollment boom seems to be over, the district is still growing slightly, adding 100 students this year, said Amber Wheeler, the district's manager of planning and growth management.

State projections call for that trend to continue, especially at the elementary level where the district is already struggling to provide capacity, Wheeler said.

"Taking away impact fees doesn't help us to pay for capacity for those students," she said.

With that in mind, Board member Dianne Bonfield dissented.

"I have to look out for our finances and our finances are definitely in crisis," Bonfield said. "My first obligation is to the Hernando County school system."

The growth has slowed to the point where the school district can consider lower fees, board member Sandra Nicholson said.

"I don't think it's the magic answer but I think it could help a little bit," Nicholson said. "I know it's difficult but I think we can share our part of the burden."

• • •

In other action, the board agreed to sell 52 portable classrooms at various school sites throughout the district. The portables are still used to some degree but are no longer needed to meet capacity, facilities director Bo Bavota told the board.

Bavota warned the board that getting rid of the portables might not be wise if growth does return. With that in mind, he offered a proposal to set up a campus of 40 portables on a piece of land behind the district's facilities building on Mobley Road in Brooksville. The remaining 12 portables — the oldest or in worst shape — would be sold.

Bavota estimated it would cost the district about $4.6 million to set up the campus, which would include the purchase of concrete buildings for administration and a cafeteria.

The campus could be used for whatever purpose the board chooses and some of the portables could be moved back to school sites if necessary.

The idea didn't sit well with a majority of board members.

"I appreciate the creativity, but I haven't met a portable that ages well," board member John Sweeney said. "To set us up with a campus with a limited life span, in my opinion, is short-sighted."

The board agreed that if a given school does need more capacity, it would come in the form of modular concrete structures known as concretables.

Also on Tuesday, the board selected the hornet as the mascot for the new, yet to be named high school north of Weeki Wachee set to open next fall.

Presented with examples from other schools, most board members liked the muscular, scowling hornet over various depictions of mustangs, cougars and lions.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando School Board switches stance to back impact fee cut 10/06/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 6, 2009 8:41pm]
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