Julie B. Maglio contributed to this article.
At the regular meeting on October 8, 2019, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) agreed to vote on the Hernando County School District’s (HCSD) request to increase their impact fee funding at a future joint meeting. For reasons that were not clear at the Tuesday meeting, the agenda and public advertisement showed the topic as an update, and therefore not subject to a resolution. The board concurred to defer the vote to the joint meeting, with a date to be determined.
The issue of impact fees is controversial. Commissioner Wayne Dukes said at one point during the meeting that high impact fees could dissuade new business from building in Hernando county, and zero impact fees would attract many new businesses who will pay business-level property taxes during their establishment.
However, school quality can be a deciding factor for potential homebuyer. Currently, the educational facility impact fee is $2,133 for a single family home, which is 50% of the 2005 impact fee schedule. The school board is requesting 100% of the current rate, but hinted that a lower rate would be helpful.
Before the members of the school board addressed the commission, Planning Director Ron Pianta gave an overview and recent history of impact fees in the county. In the section that directly pertained to the school district, Pianta reported that reported that in 2013, the BOCC rejected the recommended impact fee rate for the school district, and chose to use 50% of the rate from 2005. Stating he could only speculate on the reasoning, but the board at the time wanted to be very conservative about what they would charge during the then-recent recovery from the 2007 recession. The thought at the time was that it did not matter which rate was chosen, as long as it was lower than the 2013 rate.
Commissioner Steve Champion mentioned that the Hernando County School District receives approximately $10 million per year generated by the half-cent sales tax enacted in 2015. Pianta clarified that the revenue generated by the sales tax results in discounted impact fees to the school district, “When the (impact fee) is calculated, the charge for infrastructure is calculated in to that fee, so that fee is discounted or credited based on other revenues that go towards capital, so you can’t ‘double dip’ in terms of what you are collecting.”
Pianta also explained in his overview of impact fees that there are clear restrictions on what they can be used for. Increasing impact fees will not increase the General Fund or Reserves. Impact fees can only be used for additions or repairs in infrastructure required specifically due to increased population growth.
Hernando County School District Superintendent John Stratton began the discussion to which the rest of the school board members would later contribute.
Stratton reported that a recent study by the consulting group Tindale Oliver resulted in a recommendation that the impact fees be raised to 100%, or $6,352, which is a substantial increase over the current rate of approximately $2,133.
“Growth should pay for growth,” Stratton said. “We do not believe we should burden the current taxpayers with the infrastructure growth, especially when it comes to building schools.”
According to their report, Tindale Oliver predicts that “several schools” will need to be built. Stratton however said the district is taking a more conservative approach, adding 10 rooms to existing schools, which is expected to cost $1.7 - $1.8 million, using Pasco county as a model.
While middle and high schools still have room, elementary schools are “at capacity.” A new elementary school is estimated to cost between $23.5 - 28.5 million as of 2018.
School Board Chair Linda Prescott added that schools are also required to be built as hurricane shelters, which increases the cost of construction.
Commissioner John Allocco asked Stratton if a lesser increase would be acceptable, and if the school district could move forward if the 100% increase is not approved. Stratton answered that his request was based on the recommendations from Tindale Oliver, and additionally that the district would need to consider taking out loans to keep up with growing census.
Gus Guadagnino addressed the board, requesting that any increase be granted.
At the end of comments, all members of the school board had spoken. Commissioner Wayne Dukes expressed concern and said, “I have not met one person who thinks we did the right thing when we raised taxes, and now you’re considering doing it again in three … four weeks? That’s almost like suicide. I can’t believe we’d even do that.”
BOCC Chairman Jeff Holcomb countered that the impact fees are not a tax on current residents. “We’re talking about taxing people who are building on residential and commercial (lots).” Holcomb stated he would be open to a lower rate of impact fees for the school district, or incremental increases over time.
CURRENT HERNANDO COUNTY IMPACT FEES:
In Hernando County, new construction home buyers pay a road impact fee of $1269 for a residential home, effective since March 1, 2016. Other impact fees in effect cover fire, parks, EMS, jail, buildings and law and amount to $1312. The school impact fee is currently at $2133.