With minimal comment Tuesday, the Pasco County Commission unanimously agreed to nearly double school impact fees over the next three years.
The fee, placed on newly permitted homes, is designed to support school construction made necessary by the addition of the new homes. It will rise by $2,300 on Jan. 1, 2018, and by $600 on Jan. 1 of each of the following two years.
Commissioners had not increased the charge in a decade, even as children moving into new subdivisions across southern Pasco filled existing schools beyond their capacities. The School Board has said it needs at least four new schools in the coming five years to cope with anticipated growth from Trinity in the west to Wesley Chapel in the east.
Two new schools -- Bexley Elementary in Land O'Lakes and Cypress Creek Middle-High in Wesley Chapel -- debuted on Monday with more students than projected. The board drew new attendance zones to fill the schools and ease crowding at nearby campuses, to limited effect.
The newly approved impact fee should help the district pay for its planned additional schools, although it will not cover all the needs. Board members have already talked about other ways to generate even more revenue.
Just one member of the public spoke at the County Commission meeting. Hugh Townsend, who served on the county's impact fee advisory committee, encouraged commissioners to back the increase.
"This is a necessary fee," Townsend says, noting that those who don't wish to pay don't have to build a new home.
Representatives of the home building industry sat in the audience but did not rise to speak. They hashed out an agreement with school district officials in July, negating some of the negative aspects of the fee hike that they wanted to see changed.
The commission delayed its vote from July in order to give time for additional public comment in view of the compromise proposed at that time.
Commissioners wasted no time in approving the measure, which makes the fee on a detached single-family home $7,128 beginning in January and eventually $8,328 by 2020.
Commissioner Jack Mariano praised the players for their collaboration. Chairman Mike Moore agreed.
"What you're seeing today is everybody coming together and doing what is best for the future," Moore said.
Early response on social media was positive, with some calling the vote "fabulous news."