MILTON — Santa Rosa County School District officials want the county to impose impact fees up to $5,000 on each new single-family home built in the fast-growing county to pay for new schools.
Superintendent of Schools Tim Wyrosdick said its half-cent sales tax that generates about $7.6 million annually fails to generate enough revenue to buy land and build new schools. During a presentation to School Board members Thursday, he said from 2017 to 2025 the county will grow by 30,000 people and add 1,500 students.
"We have maximized use of the half-cent sales tax," Wrysodick said. "There is zero state funding for new school construction."
However, convincing county commissioners to impose impact fees likely will be a hard sell.
“We have concerns about impact fees putting a strain on our growth and stifling our economy,” District 5 Commissioner Lane Lynchard said. “We have questions and we need answers before we move forward.”
District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole did not hold back his feelings.
“I am totally, totally against it,” Cole said. “They’ve heard citizens cry for impact fees. They need to be held accountable on the half-cent sales tax that they already asked residents to give them.”
However, District 3 Commissioner Don Salter said he would consider Wyrsodick’s proposal.
“I understand they’ve maximized all their potential funding,” Salter said. “Everybody agrees that we got to have quality schools for our children.”
The School Board voted unanimously Thursday to request the county’s funding help at its upcoming joint meeting at 2 p.m. May 15 in the county chambers.
The county did use impact fees from 2005-09 and collected about $3.2 million a year, county officials have said. Across Florida, 35 of the 67 counties use impact fees as a source of revenue.
If the county did agree to the tax on new home buyers, the process would take until about January 2021 to implement. State law allows county governments to impose a maximum impact fee of $8,770.
The School District has said it needs five new schools in the next 10 years to accommodate new students. Over the past 10 years, the district collected more than $64.5 million in half-cent sales tax revenue. New schools cost $30 million to $50 million, according to school officials.
The last new school built was Bennett C. Russell Elementary in 2007. The late Russell successfully lobbied voters for the sales tax that began Oct. 1, 1998. Voters have overwhelmingly approved it twice since then.
Home builders Edwin Henry and Alton Lister said the impact fees would hurt the middle class, such as teachers, police officers and firefighters, and low-income families by increasing home prices. They added that the county faces a predicted housing shortfall by 2024.
"(That) could knock them right out of being able to afford the home of their dreams," Henry said. "I think there is a better way. I think we need to re-evaluate how the half-cent tax is being used."