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County okays school impact fee on new homes

The fee will raise the price of new single family houses in Pasco by $1,694. Officials say it is desperately needed to pay for new schools to keep up with population growth.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001


Despite an inter-governmental squabble that raised the possibility of a lawsuit, Pasco County commissioners on Tuesday approved its first school impact fee, boosting the price of new single family houses in Pasco by $1,694.

Pasco officials worked about a year to create the ordinance, requested by a Pasco school system financially starved for new classrooms but disliked by developers reluctant to charge more for new homes.

"It's time has more than come," said commissioner Pat Mulieri right before she and her colleagues unanimously adopted the ordinance Tuesday afternoon.

But a last-minute dispute between commissioners and county clerk Jed Pittman threatened to delay the day of reckoning.

Pittman complained about the commissioners' and School Board's initial reluctance to pay his office to collect and disburse the impact fees, which could total about $4-million a year.

"The clerk has been shown no courtesy in this entire matter," Pittman told the board.

After Pittman dropped a hint that he would sue the board, staffers with the county and school system scrambled from the meeting room to draft a compromise:

The school system will let Pittman's office hold the impact fee money for one year and keep all the interest. The two parties will revise the payment method in subsequent years.

County officials expect the ordinance to take effect this week. Not a moment too soon for the school system, which has struggled to keep up with population growth.

In 2000 alone, builders pulled permits for nearly 3,000 single-family houses. Thousands of students are confined to more than 300 portable classrooms.

Tuesday's passage of the impact fee raised scarcely a peep from developers, who spent the past month trying to shape the ordinance in their favor.

Developers resented the fee being attached to new homes and not existing homes, which account for about half the student growth.

The fees are $1,694 for a single-family home, $1,187 for a mobile home and $772 for an apartment, townhome or other residence. Neighborhoods restricted to retirees are exempt.

County officials noted what appeared to be a run on building permits, mostly in Land O'Lakes, to beat implementation of the impact fee.

Builders who get permits before the ordinance becomes effective won't have to pay.

The Pasco Building Association hasn't ruled out challenging the fee in court on the grounds the ordinance is based on a flawed consultant's study, said association president Cindy Meyer-Webb.

"If someone wanted to raise a legal challenge there are several areas in which they can do it," she said.

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