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Builders want break from school impact fees

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By Mike Wright

INVERNESS — Impact fees and the school district’s role in approving new development come before the Citrus County School Board on Tuesday as the county’s builders want relief in both areas.

The board will review a proposed change to an interlocal agreement with the Citrus County Commission that allows the school district to sign off on large-scale residential develop­ment. The approval, called concurrency, ensures safeguards are in place to prevent school overcrowding caused by student growth.

Board members rejected a similar request from the Citrus County Builders Association in April.

Builders are also seeking a moratorium on school impact fees to stimulate construction.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Kenny Blocker said the district has no plans for a new school during the next five years.

However, the district is reluctant to eliminate impact fees on the chance that any residential construction spurt could create the demand for a new school faster than planned.

Impact fees are one-time charges on new construction to pay for the impacts of growth in such areas of roads and schools.

Builders believe impact fees place them at an unfair competitive disadvantage to area counties that charge lower or no impact fees. The county’s Development Services director, Vince Cautero, said he has never seen data to support that contention.

A representative of the CCBA approached county commissioners in September, asking to remove school concurrency from the approval of residential developments. Commissioners agreed to pursue that with the school board and request buy-in for a moratorium on school impact fees.

While the county commission decides impact-fee amounts, commissioners say they don’t want to make that decision without seeking guidance first from the school board.

Builder Randy Clark approached commissioners Tuesday for an update. County Administrator Brad Thorpe said the county sent a letter Oct. 10 to the school district and hasn’t heard back.

Commission Chairman Winn Webb blamed school officials for ignoring the issue.

“You have certain people who are just dragging their feet,” Webb said. “It irritates everybody.”

Actually, according to school district records, the district received two letters from the county: Oct. 23 dealing with the interlocal agreement and Oct. 25 regarding impact fees.

Blocker said the district couldn’t respond until the next school board meeting, which is Tuesday.

“We haven’t ignored the county,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Sandra “Sam” Himmel said she opposes a moratorium on school impact fees unless the county does likewise for its programs.

“We can’t ever lose sight that impact fees are strictly for growth,” she said. “If we get growth, are we going to raise taxes to build our schools?

“My recommendation is we want what everybody else gets.”

WHAT: Citrus County School Board meeting.
WHEN: 3 p.m. Tuesday.
WHERE: School Board offices, corner of State Road 44 and Montgomery Avenue, Inverness.
ONLINE: www.citrus.k12.fl.us.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.