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Cut in impact fees now could help schools when reinstated in two years

While the Pasco County School District is bracing for a major cut to its impact fees for school construction, it could expect a higher fee when those cuts expire.

County commissioners on Tuesday will consider cutting the school impact fee in half until 2013, with the hope of jump-starting housing construction. Such a move could cost the district about $4 million in construction money over two years.

But next week's proposal also references a provision in current law that calls for automatic increases to the impact fee based on building costs. According to an index used to calculate the increase, the fee could rise $500, from the current $4,800 per new single-family home, to nearly $5,300.

The provision could be somewhat of a sweetener for School Board members as they engage in a bitter battle with county commissioners over the impact fee. At the urging of School Board member Cynthia Armstrong and the Pasco teachers union, parents and teachers opposing the cut are expected to crowd a separate public meeting on Monday and the commission's meeting on Tuesday.

School Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley was hesitant to praise the new proposal's reference to the automatic increases.

"I would like to be assured that at the end of (the fee cut), we are going to reinstate the full impact fees, including any escalation," she said.

Here's how the increase would work. The School Board would recommend an increase based on certain cost indexes published in the Engineering News Record, a weekly trade magazine for the construction industry. Afterward, the ordinance says the fee "shall be adjusted" by the County Commission. Next week's proposed cut would come from the current fee, and the increase would be applied starting in January 2013.

Several commissioners said in interviews they were comfortable with that process. Commissioner Ted Schrader said he doesn't "have a problem with allowing it to go up" when the full fee is reinstated. Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said the provision "gives us incrementally a chance to look at what the economic conditions are."

Commissioner Pat Mulieri added that the increase is "something we'd have to do" if the School Board requests it using the correct justification.

The provision has been in the county's ordinances since 2005, but the only request for an increase came in 2007 when the fee went up 13 percent from $3,900 to $4,800.

In addition to the automatic increase, Hurley also warned that home builders might apply for dozens of building permits right as the lower fees are about to expire but not construct those homes for years. She suggested that builders should have to pay the impact fee when they get a certificate of occupancy, and not when they pull a permit. "That would lend accountability to the process," she said.

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this article. Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Cut in impact fees now could help schools when reinstated in two years 04/15/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 15, 2011 9:47pm]

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