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HomeBusiness & CommunitySchool district asks for 100 percent impact fee increase for schools

School district asks for 100 percent impact fee increase for schools

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Hernando County School Board Members are seeking solutions to a rising student population and rising building costs. School board members and Superintendent John Stratton propose a 100 percent impact fee increase based on “extraordinary circumstances.” The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is striving to keep taxes from increasing further while trying to balance the District’s needs.

After hearing a presentation from the school district, commissioners voted on how to approach changes to impact fees. The board voted 3-2 to conduct studies on the newly proposed mobility fees and to find out if extraordinary circumstances exist that would warrant a 100 percent increase rather than the maximum 50 percent. (A mobility fee is similar to an impact fee in that it is a one-time fee paid by a developer to cover the costs of the improvements necessary to fully mitigate the development’s impact on the transportation system.) Commissioners Steve Champion and Jerry Campbell voted against the motion.

Jim Lipsey, Director of Planning, Design, and Construction for HCSD, and Chris Wilson of CJ Wilson Law told the BOCC that the current low-impact fees will have consequences for school concurrency.

Wilson said, “Our concern today that we’re trying to convey to [the BOCC] is that with the low impact fee, the consequence could be that the school district will not have funding to keep up with the development that’s coming on the residential side.”

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He reported that the cost of school construction has risen significantly since 2021. That year, the average statewide cost of building a high school was $65 million. Currently, construction costs in various counties range from $150 million to $180 million. (In June, he said that this sum would cover the cost of acquiring land and building a school for about 2500 students.)

Commissioners are currently proposing a $122 increase on the school district portion of impact fees for single-family home construction. This will net the school board $3,298 per single family home. If the county adopts the maximum allowable rate increase, it would mean an additional $1,588 per home for the school district, for a total of $4,764 per home. (The current school district impact fee is $3,176 per single family home.)

This maximum allowed rate represents a 50 percent increase over the previous rate over four years. However, a provision exists in the statutes that allows a 100 percent increase if extraordinary circumstances can be proved.

Proportionate Share Mitigation is a funding mechanism where residential developers share in the cost of providing additional space for more students generated by new home construction. According to Lipsey and Wilson, the current impact fee rate is not sufficient to maintain these agreements with developers.

Wilson said, “If it isn’t increased, the school district is going to seriously have to consider its next steps. Its inability to construct needed classrooms will severely curtail development. Once the proposed minimal increase to the impact fee is adopted … it’s going to be set for four years. You’re setting us on a long-term path with that decision. We’ll feel that for years to come.”

Following the presentation, Commissioner Brian Hawkins asked Lipsey and Wilson if impact fees are currently being used to pay for bond debt; however, the district is not using bonds at this time.

“That’s interesting, right?” Hawkins said, “Because that’s a funding mechanism for these particular school builds, wouldn’t it be? To bond that impact fee for 30 years, pay that debt using impact fees that are collected.”

Lipsey answered, “There is a 12 classroom addition at Winding Waters K-8, and there were other smaller classroom additions that have been constructed at three elementary schools, so that is depleting the available balance for the impact fee fund.”

Superintendent John Stratton added that the Winding Waters construction exhausted the impact fee fund. Stratton said the district is using incoming impact fees to fund smaller addition projects. The district is currently not bonding any projects.

Currently, the half-cent tax can only be used for maintenance projects. According to Lipsey, the future referendum to renew the half-cent sales tax is intended to include new construction.

Commissioner Beth Narverud said in hopes of forging an understanding between the School Board and BOCC, “To my fellow Commissioners, I do agree with a lot of the things you’re saying, but one of the things I do want to say is, whether you like or dislike the leadership of the school district, that’s irrelevant. We need to support our students, and we need to support education in this county. It’s not about who’s leading them, because these leaders who are here today may not be the leaders that are here tomorrow.”

School Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino said, “We’re not asking for pie in the sky. It’s what we need desperately.

Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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