Hernando School Board member Cynthia Moore is a firm believer in the old adage of putting your money where your mouth is. Last week, she volunteered personal funds to study an updated impact fee for school construction. Her proposed benevolence wasn't accepted but it helped end a nearly two-month-long deadlock on the School Board and allows the district to start planning for the inevitable return of a growing student population.
Moore's leadership is welcome and should serve as an example to both a County Commission majority and some School Board members who have been remiss in requiring new growth to help pay for the infrastructure it demands.
The county previously charged nearly $9,000 in impact fees for new single-family homes to pay for roads, schools, parks, libraries and public safety. The commission originally halved the fees in 2009 to try to stimulate the residential construction industry then waived the costs entirely in November 2011. A county consultant is scheduled to unveil an updated road fee in the next few months, and commissioners agreed in October to pay for half of the school district's expense of hiring its own consultant.
That offer, however, disintegrated in December when the School Board, with Moore absent, deadlocked 2-2 on paying for its share of the study. At the time, Board members Matt Foreman and Gus Guadagnino said absorbing the projected $30,000 expense made little sense because commissioners, who have the ultimate authority, had shown little support for restoring impact fees.
It's a convenient excuse, but a poorly disguised ulterior motive — kowtowing to the politically influential building industry that is seeking to extend the moratorium indefinitely.
Last week, however, the study's projected cost to the School Board dropped slightly to $27,450 and Moore stunned her colleagues when she volunteered to help pay for it. Instead, the board voted 4-1, with only Foreman dissenting, approving the plan to update the impact fee based on current construction costs.
The study, incidentally, is a commission-demanded prerequisite to establishing the school fee. In October, a School Board majority asked the county to re-institute the $4,266-per-single-family-home fee that had been in place from 2005-09. Absent that figure, the board asked for the 50 percent fee used in 2009-11. Commissioners denied both requests until it had updated data, which makes Foreman's reluctance particularly short-sighted.
His why-bother attitude fails to consider the long-term financial implications to the school district. Since 2009, the district failed to collect nearly $1 million in waived impact fees and its student enrollment is more than 200 students above state projections for the current school year. District debt service payments double to $9.6 million for the next three years and, for the past two years, the state Legislature has failed to allocate funds to districts for maintenance and construction.
Forgoing future impact fees simply guarantees a cost shift that will require current property taxpayers — including homeowners who paid their impact fees prior to 2009 — to pick up a greater share of the costs of school construction.
They shouldn't have to and Moore shouldn't have to offer to spend her own money to do what's in the public's best interests. Other office-holders can learn from her selfless example.