Sunday, November 19, 2017
Education

Pasco commission refuses to link impact fee increase to tax referendum

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NEW PORT RICHEY — A proposal from home builders that would tie greater school impact fees in Pasco County to a voter referendum on a higher sales tax has some significant detractors — county commissioners and the home-building industry itself.

In a May 1 letter to the County Commission, the president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association said the trade group supported increasing the education impact fee by $2,300 per newly constructed single-family home, an increase of 47 percent.

"We want to be part of the solution for funding, but know we cannot be the only source of funding,'' wrote Mark Spada of M/I Homes.

However, just five days earlier, Spada, builders association executive vice president Jennifer Motsinger, and the group's immediate past president, Stew Gibbons of Connerton, joined a task force majority advocating a different methodology. They supported a tiered approach charging higher impact fees for larger homes. Their recommendation also called for an even bigger impact fee — equal to the amount sought by the school district — if the Pasco School Board requested a 2018 sales tax referendum for school construction.

"I'm just one member,'' Spada said Tuesday, explaining the changing rationale. "We brought the recommendation to our (association) board, and the board picked the direction stated in our letter.''

The written notification of the industry representatives backing away from their own proposal came a day before the County Commission got its first look at the School District proposal in a Tuesday afternoon workshop. The Pasco School Board has proposed an 85 percent increase in the impact fee to $9,028 per single-family home to generate nearly $121 million over the next decade. Even with the full impact fee, the district's 10-year capital plan would still have a $284 million shortfall.

Commissioners also heard updated data that the School District expects 20,000 new students over the next decade, based on 2.55 percent growth, which will require five new schools. Since 2002, the district has built 32 schools costing more than $600 million, with impact fees accounting for $139 million of the financing.

By the end of the nearly two-hour work session, commissioners had killed the idea of tying the amount of the impact fee to a future referendum.

"I'm not very keen on the recommendation to this board to almost hijack the process or tie the School Board's hands to go out and raise the sales tax. That makes me uncomfortable,'' said commission Chairman Mike Moore.

"I think it's clear everyone agrees they need the full fee,'' said Commissioner Jack Mariano, who also panned the idea of linking it to a 2018 voter referendum.

Commissioners likewise ignored the builders' pitch for a flat fee. Instead, they agreed to advertise a proposed ordinance that includes the tiered approach recommended by the advisory committee. That formula calls for charging single-family stand-alone homes of less than 1,500 square feet a fee of $7,539. Homes up to 2,500 square feet would be charged $9,785, and anything larger would be assessed $12,028.

The proposal still must be considered by the Development Review Committee, composed of top county administrators and a representative of the school district and the Pasco Economic Development Council before it goes to the commission for two public hearings and final vote.

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