Ocala’s qualms on reinstating impact fees send school district back for more data

Ocala City Councilmember Kristen Dryer listens during an Ocala City Council meeting at Ocala City Hall in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

Home » Education
Posted October 26, 2023 | By Caroline Brauchler

The Marion County school district has been fighting a long battle to have impact fees reinstated so that developers will help pay the cost of building new schools to support growth in the county that comes with these new homes.

The final call belongs to the Marion County Commission, whose members want to have the support of all local government agencies who hold a stake in the issue. In the spirit of an interlocal agreement created last year, the county wants to ensure that the city of Ocala is fully on board with the impact fees before moving forward.

The proposed ordinance to reinstate educational impact fees, which have been suspended since 2011, would impose the charges based on the type of home being built. The types of homes are divided into five categories: single-family detached/mobile home on a lot, multifamily apartment, mobile home in a park, single-family attached/townhouse and multifamily condominiums.

For each new home being built, developers will pay a one-time fee to give the school district funds to build new schools to keep up with the countys growth.

The city of Ocala has raised concerns that these categories might not accurately reflect how many students will actually reside in homes. In a recent letter from City Attorney William Sexton and City Manager Pete Lee to the county commission and school board, the city asks that the school district have its consultant provide data on how the number of bedrooms in a multifamily home might affect the number of students who might reside inside.

“We are concerned, however, that the haste to re-implement an impact fee regime which has not been fully vetted, which may not withstand likely legal challenges, particularly in light of recent Florida caselaw,” they said in the letter.

The caselaw the city officials reference is from Santa Rosa County, where developers sued the county after it imposed an impact fee that was deemed “unconstitutional” due to the methods in which the fee and determining the number of students were calculated.

The city claimed that the current recommendation for impact fees “does not adequately consider the different types of development occurring in the city of Ocala, does not serve the best interest of our community and would not provide the funding that the School Board has identified as necessary to address the new development in the city of Ocala and Marion County.”

In the current proposed ordinance from the school board, developers would be charged impact fees at a rate of 40% of what Benesch, the school district’s consultant, recommended. The rates for each category of home are as follows:

Single-family detached/mobile home on a lot, per dwelling unit: $4,337

Multifamily (apartments), per dwelling unit: $4,114

Mobile home park, per dwelling unit: $2,866

Single-family attached/townhouse, per dwelling unit: $2,020

Multi-family (condominiums), per dwelling unit: $1,990

“It is our suggestion that, at a minimum, the school board task its consultant with reviewing the relevant data from the city of Ocala and Marion County to determine whether the differences in student generation rates outlined above warrant a structure of school impact fee rates in which those different student generation rates result in different impact fees for the varying types of developments,” Sexton and Lee continued.

At the end of the 2022-2023 school year, Marion County Public Schools’ enrollment was at an all-time high of 43,199 students. The district projects that the student population will grow by nearly 12,000 students by the year 2038.

The city believes that within the category of multifamily homes, Ocala has a significant numberof multifamily units that are studios and one-bedroom apartments, which are less likely to house students.

The city said that if Benesch could not present enough evidence to show what the city is looking for, then the city would do it itself.

“Our Growth Management Department stands willing to provide as much additional data as is necessary to assist with that review,” read the letter.

This letter is dated Oct. 18. The school district first started seriously planning for impact fees in August of 2022, when it hired Benesch to conduct this plan.

So why are the city’s concerns being raised now? City Council Member Kristen Dryer said city officials have been telling the school board and county for months that they needed to see some changes before agreeing to the impact fee proposal.

Dryer serves as the liaison between the city council and the school board. As part of the interlocal agreement, the city is required to update the school board and county on new growth. Outside of her city council responsibilities, Dryer works as a real estate agent and is also in a romantic relationship with David Tillman, president of the Marion County Building Industry Association, who has publicly spoken on behalf of the group about his concerns over impact fees.

In August, the county and school board met for a joint workshop to discuss the fees and accept input from the public, including comments from the city manager. Dryer said that before this, the proposed plan would impose impact fees in a tier system based on the square footage of each home. Before the meeting occurred, the school board decided that the new plan would be to impose the fees at a rate of 40% of the consultant’s recommendation, after hearing concerns from developers.

The city expressed then that they wished for the fees to be calculated differently and that all ofthe parties involved should reconvene the technical working group, a committee made up of representatives from multiple government bodies, to discuss the need for impact fees.

“Our concerns kind of fell on deaf ears,” Dryer said. “For a good solid four or five weeks, nothing’s happened.”

Dryer said she set up meetings between her and her staff and each individual school board member to present them with a list of multifamily housing parcels and ask for the school district to update their study accordingly.

School Board Chair Allison Campbell said she and the rest of the school board members listened to their requests and took their concerns into account but that the city’s concerns were being directed to the wrong people.

The Benesch study was conducted in coordination with Superintendent Diane Gullett’s staff, who would be the only people capable of going through the housing permit and student generation data that was used to inform the school board’s recommendation on impact fees.

“That’s going to take a significant amount of time to go and calculate the bedroom capacity on all 15,000 multifamily units in our study,” Campbell said.

While the city made it clear that it supports education and reinstating impact fees and does not wish to unnecessarily lengthen the process, this could potentially slow down the momentum for making a decision on the fees.

“It is our position that taking additional time—even at the risk of taking somewhat longer than the school board has indicated it would like to take—to ensure that the school impact fire regime upon which we ultimately agree is as legally defensible as possible is clearly in all of our best interests,” said Sexton and Lee in the Oct. 18 letter.

Campbell said as soon as the city provides more information, showing how many bedrooms are in each multifamily home rather than the entire parcels, then the school board will gladly take that data into account.

As for the technical working group, it last met on Jan. 27, but those involved are planning to schedule another meeting soon, as the interlocal agreement requires it meet annually.

In the meantime, the school district is working on finding out how much it will cost and how long it will take to update the study to reflect the data the city is looking for, Campbell said.

“Ultimately, the school district just wants what’s best for the community and what’s best for our students—a funding mechanism to be able to enhance our capital, our buildings, and build new schools and new wings to increase capacity,” she said.

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