Hernando County continued a reckless subsidy for the real estate market Tuesday, allowing home builders to keep putting up houses without helping to pay for the schools serving their customers. A Hernando Commission majority extended until May 2015 its misguided moratorium on school impact fees, a failed attempt at economic stimulus that has cost the school district $3.2 million in five years.
The commissioners irresponsibly disregarded a consultant's study and a School Board request for a new, higher fee of nearly $7,000 per home. That would have raised $61 million toward a 10-year capital plan to build a new school, upgrade classroom technology, repair deteriorating buildings and pay off the debt from building schools to accommodate growth during the previous strong economy. Only Commissioner Diane Rowden supported the proposed fee, and she acknowledged the tax inequity the board's majority endorsed. Current property owners will be penalized because the rest of the commission curried favor with the building and real estate industries by shielding new residents from sharing the impact they have on the community.
"I've heard the impact on the builders — a group of businesspeople. I haven't heard the impact on the taxpayers. The taxpayers of Hernando County are the ones left holding the bag here," Rowden told the board.
It fell on deaf ears. Instead, commissioners accepted at face value the building industry's dubious claim that waiving impact fees is responsible for a two-year, 98 percent jump in home construction. Commissioners should have mined the data a little deeper and considered neighboring markets. In Pasco County, for instance, which never stopped collecting school and transportation fees, the pace of residential construction is five times larger than Hernando County's and the number of Pasco permits grew 64 percent between 2011 and 2013. Let's see the builders association explain that. Likewise, Commissioner Nick Nicholson echoed erroneous suggestions that resuming school impact fee collections will hurt the commercial construction industry and cost the county future jobs. Hardly. School impact fees are charged only on residential construction.
Impact fees, one-time charges on new construction to cover the cost of service demands from growth, won't hinder Hernando's rebounding economy. A much greater obstacle to prosperity is a community whose leaders are unwilling to invest in the public school system.