A landmark vote in the Hillsborough County Commission raised the amount builders of new homes pay towards schools by over 2 thousand percent. Known as the school impact fee, the increase past by a 4 to 2 vote:

ACT: The motion carried 4 to 2, commissioners storms and blair voted no

The school impact fee is currently set at 196 dollars. Today’s vote raised it to 4 thousand dollars to be implemented gradually over five years. Under pending legislation in Tallahassee, it will take 90 days for the new fee to take effect.

Among the concerned citizens and suited businesspeople at today’s meeting of the Hillsborough County Commission sat an unusual group. A fifth grade class from Lutz Elementary did not squirm nor did they whisper to each other as one by one members of the public spoke in favour of an issue that would affect them and their classmates for years to come.

They sat and listened as the volunteer coordinator for the Apollo Beach Elementary School PTA Teresa Anderson presented a couple of petitions signed by 180 families from East Hillsborough schools.

ACT: WE the undersigned…

Another advocate for the increase, Denise Lane of the Coalition for Responsible Growth warned of a possibly grim future for the students sitting in the board chambers.

ACT: these kids will be on double session if we don’t do something soon

Even Joe Redner, the headline-grabbing owner of famous Tampa strip club Mons Venus, spoke in favour of raising the fee in no uncertain terms.

ACT: This is not rocket science.

Closely linked to the school impact fee is the question of affordable housing. Presenting the executive summary of the task force on the subject was commissioner Tom Scott, who was considered the swing vote for the school impact fee increase. In the past he has voted against raising the levy. Today he told WMNF before the vote, that his decision was based on provisions for affordable housing.

ACT: If impact fees are rasied we’re pricing them out of the market… I will vote for increase with caveat

Affordable housing is a subject close to commissioner Scott’s heart. Not only is Scott head of the Affordable Housing Task Force, he’s experienced the personal effect of rising house prices and stagnant salaries.

ACT: My own experience with my son…

He reminded the commissioners before him that the county spends 9 million dollars a year on healthcare but only 850 thousand dollars on housing yet 30,000 new residents move to Hillsborough County each year. Armed with facts, Commissioner Scott appealed to the board to approve the recommendations within the study’s executive findings.

ACT: I ask you today to make this dream a reality.

The board unanimously voted in favour of the task force’s recommendations, which includes appointing an experienced housing czar to spearhead the initiative and hiring outside consultants with specific industry knowledge. The full detailed report from the affordable housing task force will be available in September this year.

The school impact fee did not get passed so easily. Debating for almost an hour and a half before voting, the commissioners grilled Hillsborough County superintendent of schools MaryEllen Elia over the fine details of how much money schools will need. Elia told the board of the tremendous growth Hillsborough schools are expected to experience.

ACT: 5900-6000 new students each year.

In the end, four of the commissioners in attendance, including Tom Scott, were swayed in favour of raising the impact fee to 4 thousand dollars. Commissioners Blair and Storms thought the fee regressive, and voted against it, saying that it will price new home owners out of the market. Commissioner Jim Norman was absent and did not vote.

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