Commissioner Jack Mariano decided high-quality schools, not lower surcharges on home construction, are a better way to attract residential growth to Pasco County. It was the correct decision by Mariano, one shared by Commissioners Ted Schrader and Ann Hildebrand, that defeated a plan to halve the impact fees for school construction as a stimulus for the home-building industry.
Mariano's colossal flip-flop Tuesday afternoon came after his own PowerPoint touting the benefits of reducing the school impact fee to $2,400 for a single-family home over the next 22 months. It was part of an overall plan to diversify the Pasco economy and create jobs, he said.
Just one problem. Mariano's questions from the dais indicated he didn't know that new industrial, commercial, office and retail development already is exempt from paying the school impact fee. The surcharge for schools is paid exclusively by new residential construction. Cutting the fee isn't going to help Pasco with its goal to become less reliant on construction and services as the backbone of its economy.
"Pardon me?'' Mariano said as School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso explained that fact from the podium. So, Alfonso reiterated that a lower school fee will not lure another T. Rowe Price campus and scores of high-paying jobs to Pasco County.
It meant Mariano had spent the past 60 days championing a proposal he didn't comprehend.
We're glad Mariano recognized his ignorance before the final vote, though, clearly, he also recognized the potential political fallout in his future. A litany of parents, educators and students — many describing themselves as super voters — passionately detailed their fears that reduced impact fees would exacerbate a projected $60 million shortfall in the next school budget. (The district expects to receive $4.5 million in impact fees this year, money that can be used for classrooms, student workstations, buses and other capital expenses tied to growth. However, the district said the bleak school budget might require it to use impact fees to help cover the debt of building previous schools.)
While the Pasco School Board is left to deal with that budget black hole, builders will have to make do with an overall single-family-home impact fee cut of 37 percent after the commission previously discounted assessments for libraries, parks, hurricane shelters and planned a pending reduction to its transportation fee. It is still a generous inducement from the county and, if builders follow their counterparts in Hernando County who pledged to match impact fee reductions, it means the price of a new single-family home should drop by $12,000.
The commission, meanwhile, has a much different chore. It must repair its working relationship with the school district in anticipation of a joint effort to extend the Penny for Pasco sales tax that expires in 2014. Proceeds pay for schools, roads, public safety equipment and land preservation.
Asking voters to extend that tax would be a tough sell if a commission majority had decided schools must take a back seat to the interests of the home-building industry.