Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Renew Impact Fees to Help Fund Schools

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Renew Impact Fees to Help Fund Schools

Article excerpt

OUR VIEW

The Sarasota County School Board will decide Tuesday whether to support reinstatement of school-impact fees.

This is a no-brainer.

The suspension of the fees, one-time charges that are used to fund the construction of education facilities, was warranted in 2010 when the community struggled to overcome the Great Recession and student-population growth halted.

Residential housing starts in the county have not returned to their unsustainable, pre-recession levels, but they are showing significant, sustained gains. Most important, the school district's student population increased this year: Early assessments indicated a rise of about 900 students; the district has approximately 42,000 students.

In a recent study, consultants hired by the district estimated that 6,000 more students could enter public schools in Sarasota County within 10 years; they pegged growth at 13,000 by 2040. Those increases, the consultants said, will require seven more schools by 2026 and 11 by 2040.

Opponents of reinstating the school-impact fees, namely representatives of the residential-construction industry, contend those estimates are exaggerated. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't; projecting student populations over long periods is difficult.

But if those increases don't materialize, so what? The demand for new schools will be diminished and fewer fees will be levied.

If the projections are accurate, the district will need to spend some $325 million building new schools, mainly in central and south parts of Sarasota County, where residential development is migrating. Even if the estimates are close, the school district will need significant capital investments.

The question, then, is how to fund those expenditures.

Remember, impact fees are only one part of a balanced funding approach. (Even if the fees were levied at the highest amount deemed by the consultants as "defensible," they would only generate about half of the estimated revenue needed.)

The School Board would continue, as authorized by state law, to use a portion of its local property taxes for construction. …

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