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County left behind on impact fees

Legislation approved last week ends the possibility that the county would boost the impact fee used for schools.

By BRIDGET HALL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2000


INVERNESS -- When legislators passed a measure last week preventing any county from raising the impact fee that benefits schools, they made one exception for a county that has been planning such an increase for awhile.

But it's not Citrus.

The last-minute amendment to the bill, added by Senate Majority Leader Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, allows Pasco County to create a school impact fee because it gave notice of a public hearing on its proposed ordinance before April 23.

Pasco County does not have an impact fee benefitting schools, but commissioners are considering one of $1,706 for each new home.

But the exemption will not allow Citrus County to raise its school impact fee from $135 to $636 for each new home, as a consultant has recommended, because Citrus had not drafted a final ordinance before the April 23 cut-off date, County Attorney Larry Haag said.

"Of course it is unfair. (The amendment) was snuck in at the last minute," School Board member Carl Hansen said. "It's politics at its worst, or nearly its worst."

"With the action of the legislature, the School Board is going to be facing some extremely tough decisions," county Development Services Director Gary Maidhof said.

The bill passed last week by legislators, and now awaiting Gov. Jeb Bush's signature, freezes school impact fees at the rate each county was charging last year.

For Citrus County, which has not raised its school impact fee since 1987, that rate is $135 per home. The average rate among the 14 other counties charging school impact fees is $1,227 for each new home.

Under the bill, the counties can charge only 37.5 percent of the old fee -- in Citrus, that's $50 on each new home. The state will pay the counties what they would have raised with the other 62.5 percent of the fee.

Commissioner Jim Fowler has long championed the idea of joint-use facilities, such as parks and libraries, that could be shared by the schools and the county. He said Tuesday that such facilities make even more financial sense in light of the freeze on school impact fees.

"These joint-use facilities should be looking more and more attractive to the schools," Fowler said.

Impact fees are one-time charges on new construction, seen by some as a way of having growth pay for itself. Others complain that the fees stifle growth by making development more expensive.

Citrus County has eight categories of impact fees, and is considering raising some of them for the first time in more than a decade. County officials have been working on the issue for more than six months, and the commission held its first workshop on the matter April 27.

In Citrus County, the school district receives about $220,000 a year in school impact fees. Most of its funding, about $9-million a year, comes from property taxes.

School impact fees are only charged to new residential, not commercial, development. The school fee has drawn criticism locally from older residents without children who say they do not affect schools by moving here.

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