Education

Impact fee delay could cost Manatee County School District $1 million a month

Indigo, a new Neal Community under construction on 44th Avenue East in Lakewood Ranch, is one of several communities under construction in fast-growing East Manatee County.GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald
Indigo, a new Neal Community under construction on 44th Avenue East in Lakewood Ranch, is one of several communities under construction in fast-growing East Manatee County.GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald gjefferies@Bradenton.com

MANATEE -- The Manatee County School Board decision to delay asking the county to reinstate school impact fees means the Manatee County School District could miss out on $1 million for every month the decision is delayed.

Manatee County schools Superintendent Diana Greene is urging the board to reconsider the delay at its next meeting.

Local developers, however, who say the fees would be devastating to their business, appear to have the ears of board members.

Since July 2009, the district has missed out on $56 million in impact fees -- the equivalent of building two middle schools, according to district estimates.

The school board stopped collecting fees, which were higher than the proposed fees, during the Great Recession as the bottom fell out of the housing market.

With a recent economic boom and more growth in the area, the school district is looking to collect money to help pay for new schools required by massive development but it needs county government permission.

The county, which collects fees for the school district and the county, has already set a timeline to collect its own impact fees to help pay for more roads, parks and public safety.

The school board agreed Tuesday to postpone its decision until December, meaning it will miss the county's Nov. 13 deadline.

"It may be a lost opportunity," board member Dave Miner said Friday. "It may be more than just a delay."

The school board decision to postpone the impact fee request -- against Greene's advice -- came after two prominent local developers spoke before the board, asking them to "slow down."

"I'm just a little concerned for us to be a month outside the county because they're the ones who legally will be voting on it," Greene told the board Tuesday.

Greene sent an email Thursday to school board members, saying she felt compelled to include the item on the Nov. 10 meeting agenda.

"If we use history as our guide, the last five years we could have 'possibly' collected appropriately 60 million dollars which equates to one million dollars a month," Greene said in the email. "By pushing this out we are putting ourselves at risk of losing needed dollars."

Greene reiterated if the board wants to table the issue Nov. 10 in line with their conversation Tuesday night, they still could decide to move the item to December, throwing the board at least a month behind the county process.

The district resolution asking the county to reinstate impact fees must first go before the planning commission for review and comment, then to Manatee County Commission for approval, making the Nov. 10 date critical.

The county commission will hold its own impact fee work session Nov. 10. The issue will go to the planning commission Nov. 12 for a recommendation and the county commission Dec. 3 for a final decision, which could include adoption.

Once fees are adopted, it will take another 90 days before they can be collected.

Dan Schlandt, deputy county administrator, noted the county commission and school board did a joint study but school impact fees and the county's are two separate projects.

"The school board was trying to work along those same lines," Schlandt said. "It is not necessary that they go together."

If the school board followed the county timeline, the fees could have been collected starting April 1, but that is unlikely now.

School impact fee recommendations

When it comes to schools, impact fees can only be used to pay for growth. The board can use impact fee revenues to build new schools, expand existing schools where there is population growth or buy new buses to handle the increased student load.

TishlerBise of Bethesda, Md., which did an impact fee for the county and school district, recommended school impact fees for new homes at:

$6,415 for a duplex or townhouse;

$6,086 for a single family home;

$3,276 for a multifamily or other style home; and

$1,372 for a mobile home.

Those are the maximum allowable fees under law, but the school board could request the county to collect lower fees. The recommended impact fees are actually 4 percent lower than the board collected in July 2009.

Prior to the 2009 moratorium, school impact fees for a single family dwelling were $6,350.

Developers pay impact fees, which are passed along to homebuyers. Most often, developers include the impact fee in the cost of the house.

Developer concerns

Reinstatement of school impact fees, coupled with an increase in county impact fees, building permit fee and a increase in water and sewage hookups, all combine to a "devastating" combination for local builders, quickly adding up to more than $20,000, said Jon Mast, chief executive officer of the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association.

"What's that going to do to your market?" Mast asked.

Impact fees make it difficult for new homebuyers to enter the market, Mast contends. The school board should consider other funding sources, he said, before asking homebuyers for money, given the board's past history.

"The school board has done a horrible job of managing their money," he said.

Commission First Vice Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh told constituents during a Lakewood Ranch town hall last week the schools had "better be looking at" reinstating impact fees.

While it is up to the school board to seek the impact fees, Baugh said the revenues are badly needed.

"They are in a bind. A bad bind," she said. "The fact is we are growing. It's not going to stop. The school board has to be prepared and have the money to build schools. It has to happen and if it doesn't, growth will stop."

Families won't buy new houses if there aren't good schools for their children, and that could be the only thing to slow growth, according to Baugh.

Dubbing the impact fees a "tax," local developer and former state Sen. Pat Neal told board members reinstating the school impact fee, combined with the county impact fees, equals about $10,000 and would average an additional $71 a month for new homeowners.

While a portion of the money would be used to build schools for the new developments, Neal questioned whether district schools are full and the district really needs to build new schools now to handle the growth.

"You don't meet the state's requirements" for building new schools, Neal said.

Neal suggested looking at redistricting instead.

The state considers seven of 33 elementary schools over capacity in the fast-growing northern and eastern areas of the county. The district is undergoing a long-term facility planning process with consultants who will make recommendations in the spring, which could include school rezoning, new school locations and even shutting down under-performing schools.

The district, based on state standards, has not yet reached overcapacity, which would require the state to help pay for new schools to handle growth. It takes years for a school to be approved, put out to bid and for construction to be complete.

"My request is you take enough time to study your school needs," he said.

Morgan Bentley, a lawyer representing the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association, echoed the statements, conceding district high schools are overcapacity even by state standards. He acknowledged some issues with methodology used for the impact fee report issued by TishlerBise.

"Please give us enough time to look at this. Let's have some public input, let's have some experts look at it and let's get it right the first time," he said.

Bentley said the district should use the school space it has right now.

"We are saying that we have to kind of look at these issues," he said. "If there's any other alternative, we'd like to present it."

Board response

When asked by board Chairman Bob Gause whether to leave the vote on the Nov. 10 agenda -- in time to make the November planning commission meeting -- or whether to push the vote until December, the board came to consensus quickly to push it to December.

"I don't feel we've had enough of a vetting and discussion process on this," board member Karen Carpenter said. "I don't like feeling rushed on this."

Board member Charlie Kennedy said he didn't see the harm in waiting a month if it meant easing the concerns of developers and those in the community who have questions.

Board member John Colon agreed.

Miner said the item should be on the Nov. 10 agenda, echoing Greene's concern of being out of step with the county timeline. Miner said they had already been discussing impact fees and commissioned the study with the county, so opponents have had plenty of time to be heard.

Norm Nelson, a county resident who attends all the board meetings, said the board "caved" to the developers with Tuesday's decision.

"I'm very disappointed in all five of you. You caved," he said Wednesday. "You caved and said: 'Oh yeah, we'll give you another month.' If you're going to delay that another month, how much money are you taking away from the kids?"

Once the board decides whether to ask the county for impact fees, the item would be placed on the next available agenda, Schlandt said.

"Our intention if they transmit it to us, we would put it on the next available agenda for planning commission and the board," Schlandt said.

A December decision could cause more delays depending on the holidays and scheduling.

County reaction

When Baugh learned of the school board's decision to potentially delay its decision, she said: "It's very simple. It's a yes or no.

"I think that they need to look at this and stay in the timeline that is given to them and make decisions," Baugh said. "Either they move forward or they don't. It is their decision to make. However, postponing it may not be advantageous to them."

Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said she is "not terribly concerned" school impact fees may come before the commission later than county fees.

"They've got to be sure this is what they want to do," she said. "We can go forward with our impact fees on our schedule. We don't have to be on the same schedule."

Besides, Benac said, the commission is also reviewing the recommendations.

"We are going to take the time we need to make sure everyone is clear on what's being proposed," she said.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.

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