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Builders: Lower school impact fees

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County workshop scheduled Tuesday, Feb. 1

By Cheri Harris

A local builder points to two school construction projects as examples of spending that don’t help education and could hike up impact fees.

District officials say the school projects have no effect on impact fees.

Gaston Hall, a board member and treasurer for the Citrus County Builders Association, said part of the renovation projects at Crystal River Primary School and Crystal River High School represent changes in service by adding architectural features that might be seen in a high-end home or building, but not in a school.

Based on the calculations of some builder members who had copies of plans for the projects, Hall said he estimated each school had about $1 million in costs that he considered above what should be the standard cost to a school. He said he did not have a complete list of expenses to evaluate.

Hall said the acrylic panels planned for part of the roof at Crystal River High School cost substantially more than a metal roof, with a shorter lifespan. He said the acrylic panels he has installed in Florida have a lifespan of about 10 years.

“A metal roof gets about 50,” he said.

Other items Hall takes issue with include decorative features such as multilevel ceilings inside administrative offices and step-downs, “and of course, what we’re driving at is that all of those things don’t do anything to educate the kids,” he said. “That’s just basically putting finishes inside the buildings, not even in the classroom.”
He said the change in the level of service with the improved architectural features should not be included in the calculation of school impact fees.

Hall said the school district has also lost nearly 700 students during the past three years, leaving about 2,800 vacant seats districtwide. He said the consultant projected enrollment would not return to 2008 levels until 2015.

“Our basic complaint,” Hall said, “is that when they are calculating for school impact fees, they are changing the level of service.” He said that part of the calculation should not be part of the impact fee calculation. And now and in the foreseeable future, Hall said, there is no need to build new student stations.

He said the builders will recommend that the Citrus County Commission adopt a rate of 25 percent of the school impact fee rate proposed by the consultant. He noted the school impact fee is one of eight separate impact fees.

“We have some issues, concerns and recommendations on every single one of the eight,” he said.
The current school impact fee for a single family, detached home with less than 1,500 square feet is $1,894. The Citrus County Commission implemented the school impact fee schedule at 50 percent. Half of the proposed impact fee for a home of the same size is $1,799, a $96 decrease. The current fee for a home 1,500 to 2,499 square feet is $2,109. Half of the proposed fee is $1,936, a $174 decrease from the current fee; the fee for a home 2,500 square feet or greater is $2,298; half of the proposed fee is $2,325, a $26 increase.

It is up to the Citrus County Commission to set impact fees. Information about impact fees will be presented to commissioners at a workshop at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 1, at the Citrus County Courthouse. They will vote on the issue at the Feb. 22 meeting.

Though local builders might hope lowering impact fees will help encourage new construction, Chuck Dixon, director of planning and development for the school district, said it could have an untended consequence.

Dixon said if school impact fees are too low, prospective home buyers might wonder what kind of school system the county has.

“Our school system is probably our most important asset for the future of our county,” he said. “I mean, it’s the one thing that hasn’t fallen apart in the recent economic downturn and the students that we turn out are going to be our future, and for people that I talk to, it’s the biggest reason they move here with children. They feel like this is a good place to raise your family, and the school system is a big part of that.”

Dixon said the cost for school construction in school impact fee calculations is based on state averages, not local projects.

According to information provided by the impact fee consultant, Duncan & Associates, the impact fee schedule was calculated using state guidelines, which reduced the cost of elementary schools by 39 percent, and the cost of middle schools by 20 percent.

Dixon said the school renovation projects in Crystal River are not part of the impact fee calculation because they are not complete and they are not new schools.

“Under the terms of the impact fee ordinance,” Dixon said, “impact fees can only be used for capital projects that add capacity for new students.”

He said the .25 millage tax levy approved in November by voters is for facilities construction and maintenance. It will be up for approval again in two years.

If the district were to lose that in two years and lose impact money, “our buildings are going to suffer,” Dixon said.

Thomas Kennedy, a school board member, said he attended a recent planning board discussion in which Hall shared his concerns on behalf of the CCBA.

Kennedy said he believes the numbers presented in the impact fee study are accurate and if future needs are not planned for appropriately, it could come at a cost to taxpayers.

“We have to decide,” he said, “if we’re going to have growth pay for itself.”

At the Citrus County School Board meeting Tuesday, Kennedy said a county staff member making recommendations at the planning meeting gave no rationale other than economic reasons for recommending implementing school impact fees at 50 percent. Park and library impact fees were recommended at 100 percent, Kennedy said.

As for the acrylic panels at the high school, Kennedy said they came with a 20-year warranty and represent a small section of the roof overall at the high school.

Kennedy said nearly all the change orders for both projects have resulted in significant savings to the district. He said Hall did not refer to anything specifically to account for the $1 million in architectural features in the school projects.

“If there is information he would like to provide,” Kennedy said, “our meetings are always available and open to the public.”

Cheri Harris can be reached at (352) 564-2926 or charris@chronicleonline.com.