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Impact fees for schools must match true costs
A Times Editorial
Published November 25, 2007
Should Pasco's county government or school district pay for road improvements near new schools? ¶ Should the responsible party foot the bill for traffic changes within a quarter-mile of the school? One-eighth mile? Is a new lane of road needed for access management (getting to and from the school) or capacity (handling vehicles that would go by the school anyway)?
The minutiae of the dialogue is irrelevant to John and Jane Q. Public because they end up paying either way. Somehow that point gets repeated, then dismissed in ongoing negotiations between Pasco County and the school district over state-mandated rules on concurrency - a guarantee there is enough space for new students attributed to new residential growth.
The dispute over so-called off-site improvements in Pasco County stretches back nearly a decade to the lack of sidewalks near Marlowe Elementary in New Port Richey. An agreement hammered out at the time called for the district to send the county roughly $180,000 in fuel tax proceeds annually in exchange for Pasco paying for the sidewalks, stop signs and other relatively minor expenses near new schools. The disagreements escalated as the district began to build new schools to accommodate a changing demographic in urbanized west Pasco at the same time road-building costs soared. It turned off-site improvements into multimillion-dollar road-building requirements.
Future brouhahas are expected to be minimal, but not unheard of, as the district considers multistory elementary schools or larger, more expensive land purchases for school sites. Both strategies are intended to provide more space for after-school car traffic and limit headaches on nearby roads.
But figuring out who is going to pay for what brought a lawsuit in Hillsborough County and yet another round of talks this week among Pasco's county administrator, school superintendent, commission and school board chairs and selected staff members.
Here's a simple way to solve it: Don't water down the size of a proposed impact fee for school construction. It is planned to more than double to $9,930 per single-family home. The district acknowledges the fee provides enough revenue to pay for transportation improvements within a quarter mile of a new school. Beyond that would be the county's obligation.
Sending the proposed fee to a newly created developer-friendly advisory committee shouldn't be taken as carte blanche to shrink the expense. It is imperative that the fee match the true cost associated with building new schools. Otherwise, 65,000 already approved homes could be built without contributing their fair share to the expense.
County Administrator John Gallagher's weariness of the school-road cost debate led him to propose raising the county's transportation impact fee to cover future traffic-related expenses. Unfortunately, the immediate response from commissioners at an October work shop was negative.
So be it. But commissioners unwilling to confront the building industry on transportation costs, shouldn't stand in the way of a school district that is. It is one thing to be unable to offer a solution to a long-standing problem. It is quite another to add to it.