As expected, and facing a dire need to build more schools in the quickly growing parts of the Pasco County — particularly Wesley Chapel — the Pasco Board of County Commissioners (BCC) voted Aug. 15 to raise school impact fees on new homes.
The unanimous decision by the BCC was no surprise. Prior to the BCC’s last board meeting on July 13, the Pasco County School District and the Tampa Bay Builders Association (TBBA) had forged a deal to phase in an impact fee increase of roughly $3,500 over three years — $2,252 on Jan. 1, 2018, and $600 on Jan. 1 in 2019 and 2020.
The commissioners all signaled their support for the increase at that meeting, but were unable to vote on the ordinance at the time because it had changed significantly from what was originally advertised.
The delay was to allow for further public comment, but there was only one speaker, who actually spoke in favor of the increase, at the Aug. 15 meeting.
The impact fee on a new single-family home, currently $4,828, will be bumped to $7,128 beginning in January. For any applications filed after Dec. 31, 2019, the last year of the phased-in increase, the impact fee on a new single-family home will be $8,328.
Impact fees are charges assessed on new construction to pay for other infrastructure needed to accommodate growth. In Wesley Chapel for example, homes are continuing to be built and the area continues to grow so rapidly that most of the elementary, middle and high schools have been over capacity (see story on page 13).
Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) has been on a 10-period schedule for the last two years, and while the rezoning will alleviate some overcrowding, the school still has no room. Cypress Creek, which opened Aug. 14 as a combined middle/high school, has roughly 1,900 students, which also is near its capacity.
Combining a middle and high school is not ideal. Pasco County Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning said he hopes to have a separate middle school built in four years on the Cypress Creek campus, as the new fees are expected to raise more than $200 million over the next decade for school construction.
The school district had formed a School Impact Fee Committee (SIFC) to study the issue, which hadn’t been done since a 2007 study that never went to a BCC vote. The SIFC met four times between March and April of this year and looked at a dozen options to raise enough funds for new schools to accommodate an expected increase over the next 10 years of 7,500 students. The members of the committee decided that the best way to raise the funds without requiring a referendum was the increase in home impact fees.
District staff recommended an increase to $9,028, or an 85 percent increase that it said would pay for four or five new schools those 10 years.
The TBBA was hoping to keep the increase to $7,176, or a 48-percent raise, which means that the school district got 92 percent of the increase it was seeking.