BROOKSVILLE — Look no further than Tuesday night's Hernando County School Board meeting to see just how controversial impact fees have become in the county.
The issue nearly derailed the entire meeting.
Board members initially were slated to vote on a measure to pay for an educational facilities impact fee study — something that is needed to determine the appropriate fees.
The one-time levies on new construction help offset the cost of future growth, but are currently suspended. Hernando County commissioners have made it clear they won't bring back the education fee without a new study.
But last week, the item was removed from the School Board's agenda.
Some board members were not happy.
"As a matter of business," said board member John Sweeney, "I would like greater notification the next time something is going to be removed of this importance."
Here's what happened:
After seeing the agenda, chairman Matt Foreman asked superintendent Bryan Blavatt to remove the item because the School Board had already voted on the funding issue at its December meeting.
At that meeting, the board tied 2-2, and therefore did not provide funding for the study. Board member Cynthia Moore, who supports impact fees, was absent.
Foreman and vice chairman Gus Guadagnino both voted against funding the study.
As a result of the vote, Foreman said, it was inappropriate for Blavatt to be the one to put it back on the agenda.
"They voted 2-2, and it was rejected to do the study," he said. "For me to have the agenda item back on the January agenda was my mistake."
Foreman, after consulting with the board's attorney, said a board member will have to make a motion during a meeting to bring the item back before the board. It would then appear on the follow meeting's agenda, he said.
Because no board member made that motion Tuesday, he said it will not appear on board's next agenda on Feb. 5.
"It just needs to be done appropriately," Foreman said. "I just want things done right."
Tuesday's delay didn't go over well with other board members.
"Each day is precious here," said board member Dianne Bonfield. "It is very important, in my opinion, that we move forward as quickly as possible with a full board."
Sweeney was more blunt, saying, "My point is let's not play politics with this."
Foreman said he wasn't.
"The information is going to be presented," he said. "There's just a matter of procedure that has to be followed. I'm a little bit of a stickler for it, as the superintendent will tell you."
The issue came to a head when board members were asked to approve Tuesday night's agenda, a formality that normally takes only a few seconds.
At first, there weren't enough votes to bring it to a vote.
The small crowd on hand murmured.
The agenda was then voted down 3-2.
"If nobody wants to have a meeting, I guess we can come back in a couple of weeks and come back and do this again," Foreman said.
Sweeney responded: "I think that's a pretty big leap," he said. "Of course we're here; we wanted a meeting. We just don't want to have agendas revised and changed without our notification."
Eventually, the agenda was approved 4-1.
"I don't mean to make this a contentious issue, and I don't mean to make it so we don't have the rest of the board meeting because there are items on here that are very important," Bonfield said. "But also, in my opinion, it's very important that we go ahead with the study."
She cited the roughly $1 million in revenue the district has lost since impact fees have been suspended or discounted for the past three years.
She said not having the impact fee money is not in the best interest of schoolchildren.
"To me, the best interests of the children of this county are never to be educated in classrooms with close to 40 kids in them and two teachers," she said. "Never again. And that's what we could be looking at down the line if we don't do everything we can at this point in time to make certain that our capital funds remain healthy."
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. Tweet him @HernandoTimes.