The Hernando School Board is late with a homework assignment and the consequence is likely to be another free pass for new home buyers who could avoid paying a fair share for future classrooms.
Last week, the board learned the district forfeited about $2.2 million in impact fees since 2009 – money that can be used to add classrooms and buy equipment as student enrollment dictates. Almost half the money would have accumulated since last October, when the Hernando County Commission balked at renewing so-called school impact fees. The fees are designed to help make new growth pay for increased demands on public school space.
Unfortunately, the school board is ill-equipped to argue for renewal. Members can't even reach a consensus among themselves and their earlier bumbling on hiring a consultant to recommend new fees – based on updated construction costs – helped delay a report that still isn't finalized. It means commissioners will consider extending the fee moratorium next month with no new data in hand.
Board member John Sweeney characterized the unfinished report as a disappointment. He's being too kind. It's an embarrassment and shows leadership is failing to serve the interests of Hernando's school children or the taxpaying public – including homeowners who faithfully paid their impact fees prior to 2009. Eventually all property taxpayers will bear more of school construction costs thanks to the free ride granted to buyers of new homes.
The board should consider the information it shared with commissioners nearly a year ago. The district's debt service payments doubled to $9.6 million this budget year; the state Legislature has directed no capital construction dollars to local districts for three consecutive years and the district's own sales tax for school construction expires next year. In other words, costs are rising, but revenue is drying up.
Since 2009, the district watched the commission halve its $4,266-per single family home school impact fee, and then waive it entirely. Last year, commissioners rejected the school board's request to renew the charge, saying they needed an updated cost analysis. It's an update they still don't have.
The late report likely will provide convenient political cover for a commission majority already adverse to crossing the home-building industry that is lobbying for a continued moratorium. It is imprudent governing by both the commission and school board. The school board needs to develop a sense of urgency and the commission, if past actions are an accurate indication, needs to develop a sense of fairness.