According to the Santa Rosa County School Board, the District’s 31 schools are at 91 percent capacity and because of anticipated growth, the School Board estimates an influx of about 600 students annually for the next ten years. To address the projected growth the District will be required to build four new schools in the next decade at an average cost of $37.3 million per K-8 school and $50 million per high school. Assuming the District will build two K-8 schools and two high schools during the next decade, the total cost will be approximately $174.6 million. The average cost per year during the ten-year period will be approximately $17.46 million.
If the District budget continues to show approximately $6.7 million annually from the half-cent sales tax, that leaves the District with a $10.76 million shortfall per year for the next ten years. As I see it, the District has three options for raising the $10.76 million shortfall: borrow the funds, raise taxes, adopt a school impact fee, or a combination of the above options. Borrowing the needed funds is a bad idea because interest rates are rising and we should not leave our grandchildren with the burden of paying off the debt that we created. Raising taxes is a terrible idea, we have too many taxes already. I suggest that the District adopts a school impact fee.
Impact fees are used by counties, municipalities, school districts, and special districts to pay for the additional infrastructure required as a result of new development. Currently, 22 of the 67 counties in Florida have school impact fees averaging $4,436 per county. Santa Rosa County has the 12th highest growth rate of all the counties in the state and ten of the 12 counties in the state with the highest growth have school impact fees averaging $5,548 per new single-family home. When the $5,548 average high growth county school impact fee is multiplied by the 1,430 new homes estimated to be built per year, the average income from the school impact fees per year is estimated at $7.93 million. When the $7.93 million income from the estimated school impact fees is deducted from the estimated annual shortfall of $10.76 million, the remaining shortfall is estimated at $2.83 million. Although I don’t normally recommend borrowing funds, the amount to be borrowed is small ($2,83 million) and should not damage the District’s credit rating.
Numerous impact fee studies have shown that impact fees have little or no effect on the growth rates of counties with high growth. Furthermore, these studies conclude that County Commissioners and School Board members are overly influenced by developers and other real estate interests to keep impact fees low. Finally, most of the growth counties in south and central Florida have adopted impact fees and Santa Rosa County should follow suit!
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