HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY COMMISSION VOTES NOT TO RAISE IMPACT FEES-Andrew Stelzer

02/15/06

In 2005, a task force made up of county government, school board, and community members studied what to do about the lack of proper funding for Hillsborough county schools, they came up with several recommendations, including raising impact fees on new home construction. Today, the county commission discussed whether they would follow the recommendation and raise impact fees, and despite massive public support for the idea, voted to put of discussion for another 3 months. The meeting began with public comments, Marty Banoff was one of a parade of parents wearing buttons that said “underfunded education, with a slash through it that spoke in favor of raising impact fees. ACT “I visit my daughters school often..very basic needs are not being met..we might talk about building new schools but you wont keep up. I send my daughter to school with toilet paper..hand sanitizer because there is no soap and paper towels..impact fees must be raised, to take care of old and new..they are so overcrowded kids cant get to bathroom..��

Of the 35 counties in the state, which charge impact fees, Hillsborough County’s is the lowest, at $196 dollars. Other counties charge up to $8,000. Ronald Reid is a parent of two children of Mckitrick elementary in Lutz, and the chairman of the school advisory council ACT “our kids need school, no portable, far reaching that will thwart overcrowded..Mckitrick has 21 portables..this is first grade, the children gym is a retention pond�

School board member Jennifer Faliero asked that the board implement what a task force had recommended. And immediate increase off fees to 1,000 per new home, with step increases every 6 months up to a 4,000 maximum. Jill Hamler, the parent of a kindergartener at Mary Bryant elementary, was one of many parents who said developers have not paid their fair share of school costs. ACT “with the amount of development that has taken place, your failure has resulted in loss of million to support development..�

Whereas in the past, the commission had focused on the other recommendation that the school board ask voters to approve a half cent sales tax, and said the commission should wait to see if that happens, this time Commissioner Tom Scott said he supports raising impact fees in general, but brought up the fact that the state legislature has been asked by the governor to provide 2 billion dollars is additional funds for schools. ACT “we have to be careful moving forward until we know what comes out of legislature, it ends may 6 and for us to debate we don’t know what’s comin out of leg. I have advocated we take caution..for us today to raise fee without knowing what legislature will do, would be premature. I am prepared to wait until after the session then we continue the discussion..�

Schools superintendent Mary Ellen Elia responded that that 7000 new students are coming into the county each year, and no matter what the legislature does, if the school board gets a sales tax increase approved, or if the school district cuts corners, it will still not be enough. Commissioner Brian Blair Commissioner Brian Blair seconded Scotts motion, and questioned the financial management skills of the school board. ACT-Blair “when I was campaigning I made a promise not to increase taxes or rates unless I am convinced we were spending efficiently as possible and im not convinced of that..�

But Commissioner Mark Sharpe said there is no reason to wait. ACT-Sharpe “ I called the governors office ..they said we don’t know…I called senator lee, he said at best a third, and there are so many needs it would be financially irresponsible, this is a surplus. I spoke to Rick Lott on the governor’s task force..he indicated out of the growth management bill..even if we at best get 140 million, were still short 260 million that’s a one time allotment, and then I understand the school system still has to borrow 100 million this year on top of the 400 million they need for school construction..�

Sharpe made a motion that the commission raise impact fees to 1000 on June 1st, 2,000 on January 1st. Sharpe pointed out that a representative of the Tampa bay builders association said their group supports an increase of impact fees to 2,000, with no reservations. ACT-Sharpe “I campaign on not raising fees, but im also a former navy man, when we see an obstacle in front of us, I think we gotta begin to un the ship and correct the ship and pick up our responsibility to pay for some of this, were not gonna pay for it all..�

Commissioner Ronda Storms said she believes the reason the builders were for an impact fee is that there will be a discussion within the next year about concurrency, the concept that developers must build roads and other infrastructure, including schools, before they build in and area without those necessities. Storms said if impact fees are raised now, developers will argue they shouldn’t be made to pay for school concurrency, which would amount too much more money. Commissioner Blair then brought up County school superintendent Mary Ellen Elia for repeated questioning. ACT-Blair ‘the auditor generals report reveled 14 serious inefficiency, and another in 2005…I THINK THATS 2002..anytime anyone gets an audit and we always respond, we received award best financial ..were talking about 2 different audits, we became very concerned and there were several, we take it very seriously..okay …�

Blair said he was not convinced that the school board was managing its money wisely and until then he would not support higher impact fees. Blair also said impact fees would raise the cost of housing. In response, commissioner Sharpe added to his motion that it should have an affordable housing component, so that developers building homes that are affordable, would not be charged the full fee. Commissioner Hagan spoke in support of Sharpe’s proposal, as did Commissioner Kathy Castor, who said she thought Sharpe’s motion did not raise impact fees enough, but was better than no increase at all. ACT “few issues have been debated as much, this has been an ongoing discussion since before I was elected , we’ve had task forces discussions same result, and I hate to hear another proposal for a delay, this boar is as creative as my 6 year old, something is always coming u and we cant wait..�

But commission chair Jim Norman opposed the impact fee increase, and it failed 4 to 3, with Sharpe, Castor and Hagan the losing votes.. The other 4 commissioners then voted to support Commissioner Scott’s proposal to revisit the impact fee issue in may after the state legislative session, which passed 4 to 3. After the vote, schools superintendent Mary Ellen Elia said she hopes that Commissioner Scotts promise holds that he will support in increase in may, and that the other 3 yes votes hold until then ACT-ELIA “I'm disappointed, but we did make progress, we had 3 commissioner, and one who said they will support it..’

School board member Candy Olsen said she was disappointed but not surprised. ACT-Candy Olsen “I think there is a real fear of raising taxes, Hagan is in an area and he took a stand.WHAT ABOUT BLAIR..he can’t understand a financial statement..�

The school board, meanwhile, is setting up a task force to study whether they can put a half-cent sales tax on the ballot in November.

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