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Over School Board's objections, Pasco commissioners endorse impact fee cuts

DADE CITY — Despite a last-minute plea from school district officials, county commissioners on Tuesday endorsed cutting special fees on new homes that help pay for new schools.

They framed the move as a chance to rejuvenate the depressed construction industry.

With lower fees, they said, perhaps contractors can build more homes and get back to work.

"Everything's going down, down, down," said Commissioner Jack Mariano, the main force behind the fee cuts. "What we're doing right now is looking at the last thing we can do to actually increase development, to increase the growth of our county to stop this downward spiral."

Tuesday's vote means commissioners have slashed so-called impact fees that help pay for several amenities, from roads to parks to schools. Total impact fees on an average new home will fall by roughly half, from about $16,900 to $8,300. The cuts expire at the end of 2012 and will revert to their current levels.

The School Board adopted a resolution against the fee cut at a separate meeting Tuesday morning. The resolution says the district "cannot afford to subsidize the payment of a financial incentive to the home building community."

That argument held little sway over commissioners, who unanimously endorsed the cut after about 30 minutes of discussion. The panel originally supported the concept of temporarily cutting the fees in February.

But the fight isn't over. School officials said they will make one final appeal against cutting the school fee at the April 19 County Commission meeting, when the board is expected to formally adopt the cut.

That meeting could get crowded. School Board member Cynthia Armstrong said Tuesday she is actively encouraging parents and teachers to lobby commissioners against the cut.

The $4,800-per-home schools fee is projected to raise $4.5 million this year. By cutting that fee in half, the district is expected to lose about that much over two years.

By law, those fees can only be spent on building new schools and cannot be used to pay for teachers. But the cut could still result in layoffs.

The school district is allowed to use the cash to help pay back bonds used to build 11 new schools during boom times. School officials say at least a portion of the impact fees would be used to pay off those bonds. That would have to be replaced with money otherwise used to pay teachers and school operations.

"We've got to go back now and look at what this means to us in terms of people," said School Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley. "We know this is going to equate into some jobs lost."

Hurley suggested a compromise — after the cuts expire in 2013, they would revert back to a level higher than the current amount.

Commissioners briefly discussed that and other potential compromises, but said they wanted to decide quickly on the impact fee cut.

Mariano said he wants to "wait and see what happens" before deciding how high the fees will go up after the temporary cut.

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.

Over School Board's objections, Pasco commissioners endorse impact fee cuts 04/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 8:56pm]
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