Monday, January 22, 2018
Education

To ease space concerns, Pasco School Board pushes for impact fee increase

LAND O'LAKES — With revenue streams for new schools limited, the Pasco County School Board has turned its attention to increasing impact fees on future new homes.

The fee has not changed since 2008.

"Despite your sound fiscal management, we are in a capital funding crisis," deputy superintendent Ray Gadd told the board Tuesday night. "It will become even more apparent if we are not able to find new revenue streams to fund new school buildings."

After a workshop and presentation, the board approved a study asking county commissioners to nearly double the fee, from the current $4,800 to $9,174 per single-family detached house.

If approved, the higher fee would generate an additional $124.6 million in impact fees, for a total of $245 million, over 10 years, chief finance officer Olga Swinson said.

That would be enough to pay for four new schools, which would include a middle school on Old Pasco Road and a high school in the Trinity area. The district still would face a deficit in its 10-year capital plan, Swinson said.

Board members said they expected strong community support for the proposal, which would put more money into new schools that would accommodate surging population growth.

District officials and their consultants have projected enrollment from new housing units at about 10,555 students over a decade, requiring at least four more schools over that time.

"The Board of County Commissioners will hear from parents," School Board Vice Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said. "Schools are important to them."

Even home builders, who have opposed past impact fee hikes, have not opposed the process to this point.

"Builders are asking me when new schools are going to be built," said Armstrong, also a real estate broker. "I tell them, when we get the money."

Consultant Carson Bise noted that over the past 15 years, impact fees brought in $138 million, supporting 32 schools and additions that cost $642 million.

The district's other resources — a local sales tax, property taxes for capital projects and state funding — have been reduced, and much of what comes in is tied up in past projects, Gadd said.

That situation has made it difficult for the district to look into other methods of building new schools, such as lease-buybacks, Gadd told the board.

And those new campuses are becoming critical, as existing ones are crowded beyond capacity, with attendance zone changes barely resolving the problems.

That's why some communities are banding together, even during contentious rezoning hearings, to support impact fees.

"We need more schools," said Denise Nicholas, county Parent-Teacher Association president and a member of a fledgling east county coalition of neighborhoods.

School Board member Steve Luikart said he hoped the local governments would become more proactive in keeping up with the impact fees and other needs of the growing county. Waiting another decade for the next conversation isn't acceptable, he said.

Whether officials decide to increase or decrease the fees, Luikart said, "we have an obligation as elected officials to meet together and make that determination."

Board Chairman Allen Altman said he had already begun talking with his County Commission counterparts to "avoid getting into this predicament again."

Gadd said county officials have called for a committee of builders and parents to advise the commission on the impact fee proposal.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.

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