Tuesday, January 16, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco commission moves toward increase in impact fee for schools

NEW PORT RICHEY — The price of a new Pasco County home is poised to rise, with the added revenue slated to go toward new school construction.

County commissioners on Tuesday signaled general support for increasing the school impact fee, to help the School District meet space needs created by enrollment generated by added housing.

"I foresee the impact fee will increase," Chairman Mike Moore said after the first of two public hearings on the School Board's request.

"There's no doubt an increase needs to be there," added Vice Chairman Mike Wells. "I just don't know what the number is."

The School Board has asked for a doubling of the fee, a one-time charge assessed on new construction. Several schools already stand well above 100 percent of their built capacity, which prompted the board to redraw attendance zones for the coming academic year.

At the same time, district officials have projected enrollment from new housing units to reach about 16,000 students over the next decade, requiring at least four more schools.

The board's request would increase the fee on a detached single-family home of 1,501 to 2,499 square feet from $4,828 to $9,785. The amount would be higher for larger homes.

But Wells noted that not all new houses are expensive, and the commission needs to consider what's affordable for all types.

During the public hearing, home builders asked the commission not to go to the maximum amount. They suggested a dramatic hike could hurt growth, which lately has been booming.

"We can't be the only solution" to the School District's construction revenue needs, said Mark Spada, president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association.

Spada noted that, even if the commission approves the full request, it won't be enough to meet the district's projected needs.

At a School Board budget workshop later Tuesday, School District chief financial officer Olga Swinson said the district anticipates $875 million in revenue for capital projects over 10 years, but foresees $1.3 billion in projects.

"We're all committed to solving the problem," said Jennifer Motsinger, Tampa Bay Builders Association executive director, who asked to limit the increase to $2,300. "Impact fees are not the solution. They are part of the solution."

During their workshop, School Board members agreed. They asked district staffers to look into how a new half-percent sales tax for schools, beyond the existing Penny for Pasco, would affect the bottom line.

"I just want to see what it would look like, to see how much of a dent it would make," board Vice Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said.

The board can call a sales tax referendum because the current one is administered by the county, which shares the revenue. It also could ask voters to approve general obligation bonds to pay for projects.

At the commission public hearing, residents encouraged commissioners to do what they can to help the situation along.

"Overcrowded schools are unacceptable. Our children deserve better," said Denise Nicholas of Wesley Chapel, president of the county council of PTAs.

"Please," said Trinity-area education advocate Heide Janshon. "I know we've got some catching up to do. We haven't sufficiently put enough money in our savings account to build new schools. Now the bill has come due."

The commission plans to hold a second public hearing and final vote on July 11.

Leading up to that session, it asked its staff to explore whether it might refine the way it sets impact fees on apartments.

Apartment developers have complained that the current proposal increases their impact fee by 184 percent. They asked for some relief.

A possible idea would be to tier the charges based on apartment size, if data warrants such a move.

If the commission approves a fee increase, it could take effect as soon as 90 days later. Commissioners suggested they might entertain waiting until Jan. 1 to implement any change.

Commission attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder reminded them that, no matter what the effective date, the county likely will receive a flood of building permit applications before that date.

The new fee would be charged against any new home that does not have a permit by the effective date.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected]

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