After months of meetings and workshops, Pasco County’s School District and Board of County Commissioners (BCC) appear ready to seal a deal with the Tampa Bay Builders Association (TBBA) which would raise impact fees on new homes in Pasco to help build new schools.
The deal to phase in an impact fee increase of roughly $3,500 per home over three years was forged a day before a public hearing was held on July 13 regarding the issue. While signaling strong support for the increase, the commissioners ended up being unable to vote on the ordinance because it had changed significantly from what was originally advertised.
The vote will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 15. Every commissioner signaled support for the increase at the July 13 meeting.
“This gets us in the right direction,’’ said District 5 commissioner Jack Mariano.
“We’ve come to a great agreement here,” said District 4 commissioner Mike Wells. “We haven’t had an increase in the impact fee since 2007. To give the school board 92 percent of what they asked for is strong.”
Wells added, “it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road.”
Pasco Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning was seeking to increase the current impact fee of $4,876 for a single-family home to $9,028, or an 85 percent increase. That increase, it said, would help fund the construction of five new schools.
The TBBA was hoping to keep the increase at no higher than $7,176, or a 48-percent raise.
Pasco County chief assistant attorney David Goldstein said the county and TBBA worked through the weekend to get a deal done. The biggest battle, he said, was determining what was a fair increase for both sides.
“To me, a reasonable fee is when both sides have to give up a little bit,” Goldstein said. “I’m not going to tell you that either one is (completely) happy with this compromise we have reached. They both gave up a little bit, and neither is entirely thrilled.”
The school district got 92 percent of what it was hoping for, but it will be phased in over three years. The school district will get 79 percent of the amount requested ($2,252) on Jan. 1, 2018, with a $600 increase each year on Jan. 1 of 2019 and 2020, bringing the total to $3,452.
The new fee will help raise more than $200-million over the next decade for school construction, which will build 4-5 schools.
“It’s a number I feel comfortable with,’’ said District 1 County Commissioner Ron Oakley, who represents part of Wesley Chapel. in District 1. “It’s not too high or too low…you can’t have a better thing than education for your kids.”
District 3 commissioner Kathryn Starkey was part of the School Board in 2008 when she sent a letter to then-BCC chair Ann Hildebrand requesting approval of a 2007 Impact Fee Study to raise the fee to $8,983. The BCC never took up the study.
“This may not get them where they need to be, but it gets them close,’’ Starkey said. “I’m supporting the 92 percent.”
Mark Spada, president of the TBBA, said his organization was incurring significant increases that make the impact fees, “among the highest in Florida and the nation.”
Spada says while he recognizes the building industry is part of the solution, he also suggested the school district look for additional revenues, or consider selling some of the 20 school sites he claims Pasco owns to help pay for new schools. Deputy superintendent Ray Gadd disputed Spada’s numbers, saying the county currently only owns nine school sites outright.
Pasco has struggled for years with overcrowded schools, and few areas have felt the pinch more than Wesley Chapel.
Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) has been on a 10-period schedule for the last two years, and while the new school boundaries were drawn late last year will alleviate some of that overcrowding, the school still has no room. The newest school set to open next month, Cypress Creek Middle High, will do so as both a middle and high school, with 1,900 students combined.
By its second year, Cypress Creek could already be at capacity.
Everyone who spoke at the public hearing was in favor of the impact fee increase. Most, in fact, urged the BCC to vote for the full increase originally asked for by the school district.
“We’re asking you to please fully fund our schools,’’ said county PTA president Denise Nicholas. “Our children need these schools. They are overcrowded. It is absolutely unacceptable… please vote for our kids.”
Doug Wood, a Wiregrass Ranch High parent, urged the BCC to “pass the full impact fee that was asked by the school system; why should the burden fall on our kids?”
Wood said an extra $10,000 to buy a house wouldn’t deter him as long as the money was going to help build schools. Others worried the higher fee would just be passed on to homebuyers, citing how the same villa in the new Estancia at Wiregrass Ranch development that was $320,000 last year already now sells for $370,000.
“Home prices in Pasco County are up 10-15 percent,’’ said Trinity’s Heidi Janshon. “That’s awesome, but not awesome when we need to fund our schools. I’m asking you to vote for the full amount….I reiterate, please fund us.”