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Home builders claim school impact fees no longer needed in Citrus County

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By Mike Wright

CRYSTAL RIVER — It’s called concurrency and the concept is simple.

New homes bring more people. More people equal more traffic and more children in classrooms. Therefore, builders of new homes should help pay to widen roads or build schools.

For two decades, the state required developers to pay upfront to improve roads and schools. Two years ago, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature removed the concurrency rule, allowing county governments to decide whether to have concurrency or not.

Citrus County decided to drop concurrency for roads, but kept it for schools. 

In April, the school board declined a request from the Citrus County Builders Association to change the interlocal agreement to drop school concurrency. School board members said they didn’t want to eliminate future growth from helping pay for more classrooms.

School district officials, however, may be forced to change that position.

Gaston Hall, a longtime builder and CCBA member, convinced county commissioners two weeks ago to start the process to eliminate school concurrency and impact fees. Commissioners agreed to approach the school board to update the interlocal agreement.

Hall said he has tried to reason with Citrus County School District officials about long-range planning and whether impact fees are needed in a growth slowdown when new schools are not necessary.

In an interview, Hall pointed to the decision to spend $750,000 in impact fees to buy 20 acres of property on County Road 486 for a future joint-use elementary school and YMCA facility. 

The county is also using $210,000 of school impact fee dollars as part of the final section of County Road 486 widening project. Those funds will help pay for construction of the quarter-mile section where the new school and YMCA are planned.

When the district and county agreed on using impact fees for the school site, the district expected to build the new school within five years.

Now, with growth at a standstill, the school could be 20 years off.

Hall said impact fees should never have been used for that property.

“We totally disagree with the purchase of property for a school that might be built 20 to 25 years from now,” he said. “When you take impact fee dollars and buy property like that, you’re land speculating.”

Chuck Dixon, a former county planning director who heads the school district’s Department of Planning and Growth Management, said impact fees and concurrency play a vital role in ensuring the district can pay for new schools.

He said the county doesn’t simply hand over impact fees to the school district. The district must seek approval for impact-fee projects, and then is reimbursed after the district’s money is already spent.

Impact fees pay only a fraction of the total cost, and only for projects necessary for additional students. Central Ridge Elementary School, which opened in 2009, cost $22 million to build. Of that, $1.4 million, or 6 percent, of the total payment came from impact fees.

As for the Pine Ridge property, Dixon said the county and district combined to plan for a project that can be built before area schools become overcrowded.

“It’s a bargain compared to when we have to do these things after the fact,” Dixon said. “It’s not a bad deal.”

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