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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

Hernando schools will go without impact fees for another year

Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2014 at 08:13 PM

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BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to extend a moratorium on education impact fees for another year.

The board's decision means the school district will do without money to build new buildings and buy needed technology for classrooms.

The proposed $7,000 fee would have been placed on new single-family homes with lower fees placed on multi-family and mobile homes.

Since the moratorium was put in place four years ago, the district estimates it has lost $3 million in revenue.

The county placed a similar moratorium on impact fees for parks, libraries and transportation, but has since voted to reinstate those fees.

Many opponents and supporters and spoke prior to the vote.

The opposition to extending the moratorium consisted mostly of residents and employees of the district while supporters consisted of members from building and business communities.

"Suspension of impact fees has not sparked the growth the builders have promised," said Hernando Classroom Teachers Association President, Jo Ann Hartge. "The first thing businesses and people check out when moving to Hernando County are the public schools. Why are you putting us last?"

Without money from impact fees, the school district has had to use other funds to pay down debts incurred from a large increase in the student population in 2006, which has taken away from capital outlay for other maintenance projects, according to Roland Bavota, director of facilities for the school district.

Bavota said the commissioners' decision is especially disappointing since the school district will have to make an estimated $73 million in maintenance repairs over the next five years.

The money used to make the repairs is money that could be used to expand the district's busing program so that young children don't have to walk to school, some said.

"These kids are not being bused, but they have to walk to school in inclement weather and sometimes they come to school wet ... and sometimes they're crossing dangerous roads and sometimes (near registered sex offenders) that could be a problem for our kids," said District 2 Democratic commission candidate, Jimmy Lodato. "Our schools are in disrepair, their roofs are leaking, and the debt service needs to be paid down."

School District Chief Financial Officer, George Gall, told commissioners the district incurred significant debt in allocating funding for new schools before the bottom fell out on the housing market.

In 2011 alone, Hernando lost roughly $612 million from the property tax roll after three consecutive years of decline, reflecting a stagnant housing market, according to a report in Business Wire.

"Do not extend this suspension on impact fees," Gall said.

The vote comes a year after the district conducted a $38,899 tax payer-funded education impact fee study at the commission's request.

The school district last year voted to forward to commissioners the results of that study, which found that over a 20-year period the school district would collect an estimated $61 million in impact fees based on the new rate, according to Bavota.

The study, conducted by Tindale-Oliver & Associates, Inc., included a maximum fee amount of $5,879 for a residential multi-family home or condominium, $940 for a residential mobile home within a mobile home park and $5,831 for a residential mobile home in a private lot.

The results of that study were not disputed by commissioners, who split the cost with the school district to fund it.

Rather, commissioners expressed similar concerns held by members of the Hernando Builders Association members, saying the economy has not improved enough to warrant implementing education impact fees, which they fear will hinder development in an already stagnant real estate market.

Residents who spoke at the meeting disagreed, saying there is no evidence the impact fee moratorium has facilitated growth, and expressed concerns about the board's "pandering" to the building community.

Some residents alleged at least three commissioners have connections to the building community outside of their roles in local government, and said they think county commissioners are "starving" 90 percent of the community for the benefit of 10 percent in the building community.

Builders Association members disputed opponents' claims that a moratorium on education impact fees has not facilitated growth, saying there has been a 40 percent improvement in building permits up until last year.

Builders also said new homes will raise overall property values, which are an integral part of the school district's tax base, and impact fees hinder that.

Lone Democrat commissioner Diane Rowden was the only member of the board to oppose extending the four-year moratorium, insisting instead it would be better to phase them in than dismiss them altogether.

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