LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco School Board issued a last-minute plea on Tuesday urging the County Commission not to slash the school impact fees charged to new homes.
The board approved a two-page resolution requesting that the county "not consider further erosion of the district's capital budget." The fees generate about $4.5 million annually to help pay off debt incurred from the building of 11 new schools to deal with past growth.
Losing some of that money could force the district to dip into already-shrinking operating funds to make the debt payments.
"The district School Board of Pasco County is already facing severe cuts to programs and staffing levels due to this shortfall and cannot afford to subsidize the payment of a financial incentive to the home building community via the reduction of its school impact fee," the resolution states.
Board members met with commissioners at a workshop Monday, where commissioners indicated they might cut the $4,800 school impact fee in half to help spur new home construction. Commissioners have already cut the fees that fund libraries, parks and other amenities, shaving $6,100 off the $16,900 in various impact fees on an average new home.
"It appeared apparent that they are going to make some sort of reduction," School Board vice chairman Allen Altman said.
Still, it behooves the district to continue to press the matter, he and others said, because the financial circumstances facing the schools are critical.
Board members instructed attorney Dennis Alfonso, planning director Chris Williams and other key staff members to present the position to the commission on Tuesday afternoon.
They also told the representatives to seek compromise on the issues important to the school district.
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said one idea might be to accept a two-year reduction, followed by an increase to the full amount recommended for school impact fees afterward. She noted that the county never has followed its own ordinance in adopting the fully justified school impact fee.
Board members said they doubted they could get that idea approved.
They questioned whether any deal would be followed.
"I know we are talking about compromise, but whatever we do, I do not think we can count on them following through with whatever they promise," board member Cynthia Armstrong said.
She said people at a Republican club meeting she attended told her they support maintaining a fee level that will not hurt the schools.
She urged members of the community who do not back a fee cut to speak out on behalf of the schools.
Alfonso agreed that politics might be the more successful approach to this situation, as it's an issue proposed by a commissioner without the full vetting process.
"This is a difficult issue to negotiate or compromise because it's not driven at this point by county staff," he said.
Commissioners are scheduled to begin their discussion at 2:30 p.m.
Their final vote is expected on April 19.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.