Guest column: Hernando County education impact fee must be increased

Published Aug. 19, 2019

For the remainder of this year and well into 2020, Hernando County residents will be asked to dig deeper to pay for problems we did not create. The County Commission voted last month to advertise for consideration a 14-percent increase in the general fund property tax rate so it can balance its budget.

At the same time, an increasing demand for single-family homes and multi-family dwellings brings significant challenges.

How do we pay for the growth? One piece of the puzzle is impact fees. They help to spread the cost of new schools, roads, utilities, etc., to the new users of added infrastructure. To share the onus fairly, that's a tool local governments should use.

Especially in Hernando County, that's imperative because our state ranks 43rd in the nation in spending on K-12 education, according to Governing magazine. And our district ranks in the lowest quadrant of Florida's funding for schools. Yet against tough odds, our district earned a B rating from the state Department of Education.

So with families moving in and new homes being built, we should be collecting plenty of money from impact fees, right? Not exactly. Home builders here have a lot of clout.

Consequently, newcomers who build a home today pay an education impact fee that's less than what they would have paid in 2005. Here's why:

• In 2005, the education impact fee in Hernando County for a single-family home was $4,266.

• In 2011, Hernando County commissioners suspended impact fees under pressure from home builders to "stimulate the economy."

• In 2013, Tindale Oliver, a Tampa-based consulting firm, published an update to the impact fee study, recommending the education impact fee be increased to $7,103.

• In 2015, the County Commission voted to end the suspension in 2016, but set the education impact fee at $2,133.

That's where we are today. Can you think of anything else you're paying for that costs less than it did in 2005?

By comparison, Pasco County collects an education impact fee of $7,128 per single-family home. Hernando County Administrator Jeff Rogers said he expects to issue 905 building permits for single-family homes this year. At the current rate of $2,133, that would yield $1.9 million in education impact fees.

If Hernando County raised its impact fee to $6,352, the level recommended by Tindale Oliver in 2018, and issued 905 permits, that would produce $5.7 million. Perhaps the fee should be even more.

Correcting the financial woes of the County Commission and the growing needs of our school district must begin with fairness and responsibility to those who already live here. Let's get a meaningful education impact fee passed now.

Gregg Laskoski is chairman of the Half-Cent Sales Tax Accountability Committee and a member of the Hernando School District's Planning and Growth Management Committee.