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Higher fees will hurt, builders say
School officials say raising impact fees is their only choice, with other revenue sources drying up.
By CHUIN-WEI YAP
Published July 31, 2007
» Fast Facts
School impact fees
Sources: Pasco School District; Pasco County
NEW PORT RICHEY - Pasco school district officials want to raise school impact fees to $10,477, more than twice the current rate of $4,356 per new home.
The proposal provoked an outcry from home builders, who say it will set back Pasco's efforts to produce more affordable homes and hurt an already sluggish residential market.
Floated at a joint workshop Monday among district officials and county and municipal leaders, the proposed tax increase is part of a larger package of state-mandated changes.
By February 2008, the district must come up with a plan for how it can afford to house its growing student population, called "concurrency" requirements.
The plan caps student numbers. Elementary and middle schools will be allowed a maximum of 15 percent more students than the school buildings - excluding portables - are designed to hold. High schools can have just 5 percent more.
New developments won't get built unless developers work within these caps or pay to cover the cost of new schools.
They'll be able to negotiate swaps with district officials on student numbers between newly defined zones, called "concurrency service areas." Under certain conditions, builders can also compensate for their projects' burden on specific schools, rather than negotiate on a whole zone.
But it's not these new rules which have drawn fire from builders.
It's the proposal to increase school impact fees 140 percent.
With most revenue sources falling because of the housing slump and potential property tax reductions, Pasco school officials say they are left with nowhere to turn.
"The only revenue you have locally is impact fees," said Bob Nabors, the district's consultant.
Builders say higher impact fees will worsen the slowdown.
"It cuts straight to the heart of the affordability issue in Pasco County," said Kevin Robles, president of the Pasco Building Association. "The builders association thinks the School Board should try to find other means. ... You've got to quit going to the well every time you think you're in a jam."
While the school district argues it has to raise impact fees because of the sluggish market, Robles said higher impact fees will price more consumers out of the market.
"It's a vicious cycle that will slow or stop growth," he said.
While public involvement in the district's plan is just starting, Robles said he wants the PBA to be more heavily involved in the process.
In April, builders came to a compromise with county officials on road impact fees, which also more than doubled to $9,500, effective Oct. 1.
State law requires the district's plan to be affordable within a five-year period.
"You've got to demonstrate that you have the money there to pay for a new school," Nabors said.
District and county officials are still hammering out details of "access management," meaning how they share costs on road works in and outside school grounds.
Officials hope to have the plan formally before the County Commission in September, and an ordinance in place by the end of this year.