Friday, October 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Pasco commissioners should raise school impact fee

With the end of the economic recession and the return of population growth and new housing construction, it's clearer than ever that Pasco County needs more schools and doesn't have the money to pay for them. It's so clear that the school district and the home builders reached a last-minute compromise Monday over significantly raising impact fees on new houses. The Pasco County Commission should approve the agreement today — and be mindful that even this investment will not be enough to solve every overcrowding issue in every school.

For at least a decade, Pasco school officials have been talking about raising the impact fee to help build more schools to meet the demands of the county's rising population. A 2008 proposal to raise the fee by several thousand dollars was ignored by county officials. That effort stalled during the recession but resumed in December as the School Board approved a new impact fee study that found the fee would nearly double on a single-family home, from $4,828 to $9,028.

The need for the significant jump is obvious. Too many Pasco schools are significantly overcrowded. Add to that another 16,000 students the school district expects over the next decade from families moving into new houses. That will require probably five new schools. With the Tampa Bay Builders Association opposing such an immediate jump in the impact fee, Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning pled the school district's case on social media. He recounted efforts to deal with overcrowding and noted Wiregrass Ranch High School has been on a 10-period day for two years, school enrollment boundaries have been redrawn and a new combined high school/middle school is in Wesley Chapel. Yet a quarter of Pasco's schools are overcrowded, and Browning argued that new growth should pay for itself as he urged residents to lobby county commissioners to raise the impact fee.

The compromise reached between the school district and the home builders Monday should make the county commissioners' decision easier today. Instead of doubling the impact fee immediately, the deal calls for a gradual, three-year phase-in. The impact fee on new homes would rise to $7,128 in January and work its way up to $8,328 by the third year. The increase would raise about $220 million over 10 years, about $14 million less than the original proposal but enough to build four more schools. That likely won't take care of all of the overcrowding, but it would be an excellent start.

Of course, Pasco County would not have to raise its impact fee on new homes so high if the Florida Legislature wasn't so stingy or so obsessed with charter schools. The 2017-18 state budget continues the misguided practice of equally dividing school maintenance and construction money between charter schools, which are privately operated public schools, and traditional public schools that serve the overwhelming majority of students. Lawmakers also forced local school districts to direct a portion of local property taxes meant for school construction to charter schools. For putting Pasco School Board members and county commissioners into this box, Pasco voters can thank one of their own: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. Corcoran favors charter schools over traditional public schools and argues school districts spend too much on building opulent schools while students in his county sit in overcrowded classrooms.

Pasco's proposed impact fee for new school construction, even when fully implemented in three years, will be lower than similar fees now in counties such as Polk, Orange and Broward. It will be a few thousand dollars higher than the impact fee in Hillsborough County, which ranges up to $5,200. Pinellas, which has little new-home construction, does not have a similar impact fee.

For Pasco County, today is an opportunity to invest in the future after years of delays. County commissioners should approve the compromise between the school district and the home builders on the school impact fee and move forward.

Comments

Editorial: Museum quickly regained its step

Jennifer Stancil was terminated from her $169,280 a year job last month as museum president and chief executive, a post she held for three years. Exactly why remained a mystery to those outside the museum.
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Twenty-seven journalists have been murdered so far this year just for doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That number doesn’t even include Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident journalist who hasn’t been ...
Published: 10/17/18
Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court reached the right conclusion by ruling that the next governor has the authority to appoint three new justices to the court rather than departing Gov. Rick Scott. That is practical and reasonable, and it reflects the will of ...
Published: 10/16/18
Updated: 10/18/18
Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants voters to believe he is different than his Republican colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump. The Palm Harbor Republican says he pays more attention to local issues than to the president, claims he doesnȁ...
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

A proposal that goes to the three-county utility Tampa Bay Water on Monday could benefit residents, the economy and the environment across the region. The utility's governing board will consider a proposal by the city of Tampa to redirect highly trea...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/15/18
Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

The Tampa Bay Rays’ purchase of the Rowdies soccer team adds some stability to the region’s roster of professional sports franchises. It also guarantees that the Rowdies, who have amassed an enthusiastic fan base in a short time, will k...
Published: 10/12/18
Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

When the sun rose Wednesday, Mexico Beach was a sleepy town of 1,200 people on Florida's northern Gulf coast. By sundown, it was gone. The pictures show the heartbreaking devastation left by Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle. Entire neighbor...
Published: 10/12/18
Shortsighted opposition to TECO

Shortsighted opposition to TECO

The destruction from Hurricane Michael is only the latest reminder of Florida's growing vulnerability to extreme weather, rising sea levels and other impacts of a warming climate. But the Sierra Club's opposition to Tampa Electric Co.'s plans to retr...
Published: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Florida sheriffs have long hand-plucked their successors from within the ranks. While he is a product of this tradition, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is uniquely qualified to be elected on his own merits.Then-Sheriff David Gee surprise...
Published: 10/11/18
Updated: 10/12/18