School impact fees recommended to be suspended for 12th straight year

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Posted December 15, 2022 | By Caroline Brauchler

Marion County school district officials, struggling with overcrowded schools and ways to fund new buildings, on Tuesday declined—for now—to request a renewal of a key funding source that could help ease the crisis.

The Marion County School Board once again recommended that the Marion County Board of County Commissioners continue to suspend impact fees rather than terminating or reinstating them. This long-standing trend could change, however, once the district receives the results of two studies that are expected to provide details about the district’s acute needs.

The school board sent its recommendation letter this week because it is obligated to, explained School Board Vice Chair Nancy Thrower.

“This letter is required, and at this point we have our impact fee study in progress and also our capital funding review in progress,” said Thrower. “Until those are completed, we don’t have the foundation in which to ask for impact fees.”

School impact fees were first suspended in 2011 because the economy and population growth were stagnant and the district did not need help funding the renovation, expansion and building of schools.

As population growth and development have exploded, particularly in the southwest region of the county, schools in those areas have quickly become overcrowded. The return of Educational System Impact Fees, one-time charges that local governments impose on builders and developers to offset the costs of expansions borne by developments to schools, could help ease the financial strain on the district.

The school board’s recommendation was for the commissioners to continue to suspend impact fees rather than terminating or reinstating them. School impact fees were never terminated in the event they could become necessary again. The district collected $800,000 in revenue from impact fees in the last year they were in place, according to the Florida Department of Education.

In August, the Gazette reported the district had contracted a consulting firm to conduct an impact fee study to see whether the district should recommend the county commission bring the fee back and at what amount. The same consulting firm is also conducting a long-range school planning study to assess where development has impacted schools the most and which schools are of the highest priority for improvements and developments.

Depending on the findings, the impact fee study could affect the school board’s next recommendation to the commission, said School Board Chair Allison Campbell.

“At this juncture, we haven’t had a new impact fee study done in a dozen years or more,’’ she said. “We want to wait and see what the third-party consultant advises us, so that we potentially not only make a recommendation for impact fees, but we actually land on a number that is validated by a third-party consultant.”

The study could keep or change the amount collected for impact fees if it finds that they are a necessary form of revenue for the district to fund capital projects, said Campbell.

“The way the letter was written was to say that we aren’t necessarily suspending for a full year,” she said. “We also understand that impact fees are just one of a number of funding sources that we might be exploring in the future. But all of that, again, is going to be contingent on what this study tells us.”