The Hernando County Commission should treat school buildings the same way they treat their own roads, parks, libraries and public safety equipment — by requiring the buyers of new homes to share the expense of providing these public services.
On Tuesday, commissioners will consider extending for another year a moratorium on collecting an impact fee for education. They will do this even though a consultant said the Hernando School District could charge nearly $7,000 for a new single-family home to help finance a 10-year capital plan to build a new school, upgrade technology, maintain current facilities and pay off the loans used to construct existing classrooms. A commission majority, following the lead of the politically influential building industry, balked at the proposed fee last month and instead offered to lengthen the free ride until May 2015. It is irresponsible and contradictory to the commission's own strategy for financing the county government's infrastructure needs.
• Eleven months ago, the commission approved a new impact fee for transportation, collection of which is to begin in August. It is significantly less than what a consultant recommended, but the approved charge of $2,537 for each new single-family home is better than nothing and will help the county whittle a five-year road plan that contains $104 million worth of projects that lack financing.
• The county began charging impact fees totaling $1,387 per new home in August 2013 for public safety, parks and libraries. Even with the new fee, the county agreed to allow pending projects another year to obtain building permits without having to pony up the impact fee.
The commission has failed to do likewise for education. When School Board members asked for the moratorium to end in 2012, commissioners ordered a new study to determine updated school-related construction costs. Commissioners previously cut the $4,266 school fee in half in 2009 and then suspended it entirely in 2011 as a dubious stimulus for the construction industry. It is time to end the charade of shortchanging schools under the mistaken belief that it will benefit the Hernando economy.
Commissioners can look at neighboring counties for examples of what can be done. Pasco County never granted a moratorium on school impact fees and charges $4,828 per single-family home. Polk County has waived nearly all its impact fees for five years, but it, too, exempted schools from the moratorium. It charges $4,160 per home. Even Citrus County to the north continues to finance school construction. Its fee ranges from $1,800 to $2,325 depending on the size of the house.
On Tuesday, commissioners should allow its moratorium to expire and adopt any one of several options available to them. By doing nothing, the $4,266 fee will be restored in May. Or, commissioners could use the same formula they chose for transportation and accept a fee equal to 44 percent of the consultant's recommendation. That would bring the school fee to less than $3,100.
They could pick the statewide average school impact fee of $4,682, as identified in a 2012 survey by Texas-based Duncan Associates. That same firm, incidentally, reported in 2010 no difference in construction activity among counties that retained impact fees and those that offered discounts.
Of course, commissioners could do the most logical thing. They could use the recent consultant's study they helped to finance and begin charging nearly $7,000 for each new home.
Keeping the fee at zero is reckless and unfairly pushes a greater share of growth's costs onto existing residents. If commissioners recognize the public services they provide need impact fee investments to keep pace with expected growth, then they shouldn't object to the Hernando School Board reaching the same conclusion.