Sunday, December 17, 2017
Education

Impact fees are building blocks

Thank goodness for politicians such as Hernando County School Board member Dianne Bonfield, who understands that impact fees are fair and necessary.

Bonfield remembers that just a few years ago the playground at Spring Hill Elementary School was full of trailers — sorry, "portables" — pressed into service as classrooms.

She remembers, in the 1980s, teaching in a portable with a large number of elementary school students and zero bathrooms, "which was a challenge on rainy days."

She remembers how "the floor used to bounce when you walked on it and . . . it sounded like you were in a tin can when it rained. It just wasn't conducive to good education."

Maybe, unlike Bonfield, you've forgotten about impact fees, which is possible given that it has been a few years since we had credible ones in place. If so, these fees are the county's way of paying for the strain that new construction puts on public services and facilities.

A lack of impact fees wasn't the reason that shoe box-like portables were crammed into school yards. They are, however, a big reason the school system has been able catch up.

In other words, if your kid is in a real classroom these days — and, fortunately, most of them are — you owe a big thanks to impact fees collected during the boom years.

And without them? Either we don't catch up or somebody else pays. That's right. A break for builders is a burden on the rest of us.

Most of the School Board members get this. On Tuesday, they agreed to recommend a return to the 2005 school impact fee rate — $4,266 per new house — when they meet with the County Commission on Oct. 30.

And what will commissioners say?

Well, supposedly, a majority of the current ones at least agree with the idea of impact fees. Three years ago, when the commission cut impact fees, and then last year, when it axed them altogether, commissioners said it was temporary — just a little help for a crippled industry for one more year.

Except the year will be up on Nov. 15, and a study to come up with a smarter transportation impact fee schedule is still months away from completion, and it looks as though the decision on whether to extend the current break won't come on Nov. 15, but 90 days later.

The commission will be different then. None of the three Republican candidates are big fans of impact fees, and one of these candidates, Jason Sager, recently called them "immoral."

So, if the builders' real aim is to get rid of the fees permanently, which has always been my worry, they might have a better chance than ever.

What could change that?

People pushing back, of course. Especially prominent people, such as School Board members, ones who can explain to the public why impact fees are essential.

I'm not sure the 2005 school impact fees, which would be just a stopgap at any rate, can be defended in court. And I seriously doubt new planned subdivisions will get the amount of construction that school staffers predict.

But somebody has to come out and say that impact fees are not only good for residents, but for anybody who wants to attract home buyers and businesses.

Imagine one of those business owners scouting out Hernando, Bonfield said.

"They won't want to see a sea of portables."

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