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Hillsborough school officials request impact fee hike

A proposal headed to the County Commission would more than double the charge on new home construction.
A new house under construction in Waterset on Big Bend Road in Hillsborough County's Apollo Beach area. Developed by Newland Communities, which also developed Fishhawk Ranch in Hillsborough, Waterset has had more housing starts in the past year than any other new-home community in the Tampa Bay area. [SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN | Times]

Crowding continues unabated in southeast Hillsborough County schools, as housing development booms.

Financial support for the school district to build seats to accommodate the children from the new homes has not kept pace, though. The county’s school impact fee on residential development hasn’t changed since 2006, leaving it at half the rate of neighboring Pasco County, which boosted its fee in 2017.

Hillsborough district leaders are seeking to change that equation.

Just more than a year after winning voter approval to increase local sales taxes for school maintenance projects, superintendent Jeff Eakins has sent a letter to county government officials urging their support for higher school impact fees.

An outside expert’s analysis of the district’s construction cost per student, compared to the amount collected, justifies the proposal to boost the charge on new homes from $4,000 for a 2,000-square-foot structure to $8,595.

“The School Board has a duty to students, families and taxpayers to require development to pay for itself, and to ensure that schools do not become further overcrowded," Eakins wrote to County Commission chairman Les Miller and county administrator Mike Merrill.

The proposed change would generate an additional nearly $30 million a year, Eakins stated. Just to start, that increase would allow the district to accelerate plans to build a planned new elementary school near Apollo Beach, a new high school, and a South Tampa middle school conversion to a K-8 campus.

District officials have recently used impact fees to pay for such projects as additions to Sickles, Robinson, East Bay, Lennard, Alonso and Newsome high schools, and the construction of four elementary schools.

County commissioners could hold a public hearing on the proposal as early as March 4. It likely would come along with recommended increases in other impact fees, such as those for transportation and wastewater.

At-large commissioner Mariella Smith predicted the commission, with its new Democrat majority, would look favorably on the request.

“I ran on the promise to make development pay its fair share of our infrastructure costs,” Smith said. “For far too long, our impact fees have been far too low.”

She mentioned that the county’s transportation impact fee has collected $80 million since 2006, which barely makes a dent in the county’s needs, considering the widening of a 3.4-mile stretch of road could cost $100 million.

“Schools are in the same boat,” she said. “That’s why our schools are overcrowded. It’s a real problem, especially in south county.”

Commissioner Sandy Murman, now in the Republican minority, said she understood the needs. But she wanted to get more information on how the various proposals would affect the county economy as a whole.

“There’s a big push to get these fees increased. But there’s a big push to get a lot of fees increased,” Murman said. “If we take too huge of a jump, it can have a really big impact.”

The commission is set to consider scheduling a public hearing on the impact fees when it next meets Feb. 19. If it has that hearing, expected to be on March 4, it could vote on the same day.