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Over A Decade Later: Public School Impact Fees Return

By Bryce Abshier – Contact Bryce@TheVOSM.net

(Thoughts? Have your letter to the editor published here!)

Impact fees for public school educational facilities, which were halted 13 years ago amid an economic recession, have finally made a comeback. This decision was reached by a unanimous vote at a recent meeting of the Marion County Board of County Commissioners. Per the new amendment, an impact fee of $4,307 for single-family homes going forward will be earmarked for public schools.

Much has changed in the Marion County housing and student population landscape since 2011, the last time a dime was collected in impact fees designated for schools. Rampant housing development in Marion County during that time has reportedly strained the school system, and the burden of that growth has fallen squarely on the shoulders of taxpayers. According to US Census data, Marion County has added about 90,000 new residents since 2011.

During the meeting, Nancy Thrower, Chair of the Marion County School Board, explained the need for these impact fees. “Clearly, development in our community has bounced back and is now flourishing,” Thrower said. “Enrollment in Marion County Public Schools is at an all-time high, with new students enrolling daily.” Thrower further elaborated that this has exacerbated the need to both build new schools and expand capacity at existing facilities.

Commissioner Carl Zalak explained why impact fees are the best option to alleviate the financial burden of new students. “If people are generating students, there has got to be a way to have them pay for the growth,” Zalak said. “It’s better to do that per unit on the front end than it is to continue to raise property taxes for all the collective of Marion County.”

Many in the community believe that these impact fees, which are only marginally higher than they were in 2011, are simply too little, too late. After years of neglecting infrastructure and constantly adding students, some would say these fees are like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. At this point, nothing can be done to retroactively collect missed revenue that would have been garnered during Marion County’s years of rampant growth. These funds potentially could have helped keep development in check, while providing adequate facilities for local students.

Commissioner Kathy Bryant remarked, “I think that if we all look back, probably should have had them come back sooner than later. Quite frankly, there is a lot of revenue that could have been generated that we did not generate because of the boom in our construction and real estate industry and all the growth that we’ve seen.”

While discussing the needs for many repairs and expansions at local schools, Commissioner Craig Curry said that he believes home builders won’t be the only ones needed to shoulder the financial burden of bringing schools up to par – but also more collections will likely be needed through sales tax. “I think it’s going to take the half-cent sales tax, I think it’s going to take bond issue money, and the impact fee in order to get this problem straightened out,” said Curry. “1,000 people a day, estimated, are coming into Florida. A good portion of them are coming into Marion County and I’m not exactly sure how you stop that.” Curry also indicated that half of Marion County schools are now over 50 years old, and an additional one-third are at least 30 years old.

(Thoughts? Have your letter to the editor published here!)

Why on earth was there a 13-year hiatus?

On the topic of the long-term absence of impact fees, Marion County Commissioner Michelle Stone made her position clear. Stone said that it is up to the Marion County School officials to decide when these fees are needed – not the Board of County Commissioners. While addressing officials from Marion County Public Schools during the meeting, Commissioner Stone stated “It’s not this board’s place to tell you when to turn on impact fees, and I’d like it to be on the record.” Stone went on, “This board does not tell you when you should put your impact fees on, and when you should turn them off.”

Residents of Marion County are likely more preoccupied with the pressing challenges now facing public schools and the looming financial implications, rather than who the blame gets passed off to. Many would have appreciated any elected official, at any level of government, taking a proactive stance on this matter over the past decade or more, given the absence of any contribution from developers towards mitigating the strain on schools. Marion County Commissioners earn over $90,000 per year and their website broadly describes their responsibilities as “to provide for the safety and welfare of all Marion County residents.” Don’t expect them to keep an eye on how the influx of new housing developments could impact public school infrastructure, though. That’s simply not their job.

(Thoughts? Have your letter to the editor published here!)

2 Comments

  1. Sarah Dennis on March 14, 2024 at 10:47 am

    I for one as a citizen of Marion County do not understand how this was not brought up and brought back sooner with all the boom of developing over the past few years. If the school board is saying they need new schools and they need more funding, the past three years they could’ve been funded tremendously by these impact fees instead of now asking for more sales tax dollars. Time to be proactive people and not a little too late.

  2. Amy Davis on March 14, 2024 at 6:59 pm

    I sent emails to county commissioners years ago when I realized how much less are impact fees are compared to other counties. Two years ago, Hillsborough County was $16,000. Our warehouse impact fee is also very little, thus all the warehouses with no funding for roads into and out of the warehouse. They were aware of the issue, but chose not to address it and are now pointing the finger at someone else. As a life long resident of Marion County I am disappointed in how little our county commissioners care about our county, but they don’t mind that $90,000 a year for a part time job. Maybe they need a reduction in their salary and that can go towards the impact fees they missed out on during the construction boom of the last few years.

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