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Schools

Proposal ups school impact fees

As a School Board member during the booming population growth of the late 1970s and the 1980s, Langer often had the task to negotiate the land purchases needed for new schools at the time.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT
Published November 27, 2006


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For 16 years, David Langer knew every nuance of school crowding and school construction.

As a School Board member during the booming population growth of the late 1970s and the 1980s, Langer often had the task to negotiate the land purchases needed for new schools at the time.

Now an alternate on the county's Planning and Development Review Board, Langer finds himself in the role of devil's advocate for the second year in a row as school officials seek higher impact fees.

The County Commission is considering increases in impact fees for a variety of categories, including schools. Consultants have recommended large increases in those fees for schools, roads, public buildings, parks, libraries and public safety.

The fees in several of those categories just went up to the current level in March 2005.

As adamant as Langer was last year that the large school impact fee increases weren't needed, he is even more convinced this year when the county's consultant recommended fees double for schools.

When the PDRB took up the issue several weeks ago, Langer again questioned why the increase was needed.

Prior to last year's commission vote to increase impact fees, the school fee was $636 for an average new home. The commission agreed to increase that to $1,917. The consultant this time has recommended a fee of $4,218 for a mid size, single-family home.

Langer argues that the increases in student enrollment don't justify that escalating number. He also questions how the district has spent the $75-million in other capital monies collected over the last four years.

"Where has that money gone?" he asked.

School officials have said that the dollars have paid for various construction and maintenance functions. And they said the need for the impact fees has grown as the cost of building new student spaces has escalated.

When the district opened its last elementary school, Forest Ridge Elementary, in 2000, the price tag was $8.5-million.

Earlier this month, the board settled on a construction price for the next new elementary school which is slated to be built near the Citrus Springs Middle School.

The price tag? A whopping $21.7-million.

Ground breaking is slated for Dec. 5. Just two days later, the County Commission is scheduled for a special 9 a.m. workshop to talk about the impact fee recommendations.

The school district's approach to the increased impact fee is the same as it was before. "Give me what everyone else gets," said superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel.

While the commission might not opt to go with the full amount the consultant has recommended, it could go with a percentage, which is what was recommended by the PDRB.

Himmel said that fairness would dictate that the school district get the same percentage as every other category.

The county's impact fee consultant, Tindale-Oliver & Associates Inc., consider a variety of factors when recommending a maximum impact fee.

Its formula examines how much it costs to accommodate one new student, known as the cost per student station. That includes everything from the construction cost to the proportionate costs to transportation, administration and support functions in the district when a new student is added.

The consultant also considers what other funding options are available to pay for new school space and how many new students each type of new construction would generate.

Langer has argued that the school district's expenditures have skyrocketed far beyond the actual student growth.

District enrollment numbers show annual student population increases ranging from about a tenth of a percent up to nearly 2.5 percent each year since the 1994-95 school year.

In numbers, the overall student population in 1994-95 was 13,601. In September it was 16,133.

But student population growth is not the critical factor in figuring out an impact fee. The cost of building new student stations is key, according to Chuck Dixon, the school district's director of planning and growth management.

Dixon knows his impact fees. He took the job with the district several months ago after working as the county's community development director for years.

He said there is "definitely a need" for the impact fee dollars.

In addition to the new elementary school, the district is expecting to need new student space at the middle school level in the next few years and, in five to 10 years, a new high school.

That is a very expensive proposition with the going price for a high school these days hitting around $70-million.

The argument has long been made that growth should pay for itself, Dixon explained.

"Impact fees are a fair and equitable way to fund infrastructure," he said. "When you add residential development to the county, it creates demands not only on roads but schools and other services."

Each service "should all get the same proportionate share, so that they can keep up with it. If you don't keep up with it, the cost will have to come from somewhere else," Dixon said.

In Citrus County, school officials are in the process of analyzing the existing schools to determine where renovations and possibly even reconstructed areas are needed.

Since impact fees can only fund new spaces and new capital expenses required because of student growth, those other improvements will have to come from the existing funding sources, Dixon said.

"That's why the impact fee monies are so critical to meet the growth needs because the district has some aging facilities," he said.

"If we can get the impact fee to where it needs to be, we can maintain the quality of the school district and grow."

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendt@sptimes.com.

[Last modified November 27, 2006, 06:52:38]


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