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Thursday, October 2, 2008

State School System Is Forcing Local School Systems To Increase Taxes…Again

By Sid Riley

State Concurrency Plan Calculations Will Force Many Counties To Begin "Mitigation (Impact) Fees" on New Developments
At last weeks special session of the Jackson County School Board, Buddy Dickson, schools Facility Director, and Rick Pettis, consultant to the School Board for Melvin Engineering gave a special power point presentation to the County School Board staff and commission. As the presentation progressed a still, solemn air filled the darkened meeting room as the attendees began to realize the full scope and impact of what was being said.
What it boiled down to was the fact that the State Department of Community Affairs and the Department of Education are putting into place programs and procedures throughout the state in order to comply with a State mandate requiring School Concurrency {163.3177, 163.3180, F.S.} that will eventually force every school system to begin to charge significant mitigation (impact) fees for all new development within a school concurrency area (defined attendance zones) inside a school district. This will take millions of dollars away from the public sector and add these funds to the school revenues….in addition to the existing ad valorem tax revenues!
In the calculations initially given in this presentation, these fees in Jackson County would be over $4,000 for every new house in subdivisions platted within the county in the future. This will make the cost of building or buying a new house in our county go up by that amount, as the new home owner covers the cost of adding this money to the educational bureaucracy. This increase will, in turn, increase the ad valorem assessment on these homes, and thus permanently add additional funds to the tax rolls, in addition to this "up-front" payment.
The basis of this concept is to add the cost burden of new schools construction to the developments which are bringing new families into the school system.
Although the Jackson County school system has been in a period of declining school enrollment, the system created by the State for calculating capacity and "Level of Service" for the school system has apparently been designed to push counties over the defined capacity limits and thus into an "mitigation (impact) fee" requirement status.
First, they recommend the plans not allow temporary movable classrooms to be included in the existing classroom capacity calculation, in order to discourage wide usage of these types of classrooms. School officials feel these types of new classrooms are needed to provide flexibility to the schools as the school population shifts from area to area, and to meet the new lower students limit per classroom requirements.
In most instances these mobile type of classroom are as nice as or are sometimes better than the in-building classrooms …but they can not be counted in the capacity calculation. Jackson County has only 1.8% of their classrooms in these types of facilities, but some counties have over 12% of their classrooms in these uncountable spaces.
Add to this capacity calculation reduction the impact of the soon to be fully implemented lower student per class requirements which causes most school capacities to be significantly reduced. Generally, the existing schools were built with classrooms designed to hold around 30 students, and under the new requirements half of this space will sit empty while new classrooms are needed. Under existing rules, if a class has fifteen students in it and a new, additional student is enrolled, the school system must quickly set up another full classroom, fully equipped with another teacher, and two 8 student classes created. This greatly multiplies costs, and especially creates problems for smaller schools.
The student load per household in Jackson County has been calculated at .41 students per household. This is further broken down into what portion of this student load is for elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. If these classroom capacity restrictions are used and the student load calculated as defined, in Jackson County the elementary schools in Marianna would soon be at capacity, and the Sneads schools would be approaching the limits. It is projected that within five years a two additional classrooms would be required at both Golson and Riverside Elementary Schools. This would force new construction upon the county school system, even though overall enrollment is down. However significant growth in elementary enrollment is projected in the coming years.
The county would then be forced to submit construction plans and financing sources in its five year Facilities Plan to the State for approval. Any district at the capacity limits and thus not able to meet the defined "Level of Service" would be forced to begin to charge mitigation (impact) fees for all additional platting for home construction. The developers would then have to pay the prescribed fees in order to obtain required project permitting. These additional costs would then ultimately be passed on to the citizens as they purchased homes in the development. At this time it appears that construction of single unit homes would be exempted from this requirement.
This school facilities plan and concurrency calculation system will be submitted to the Jackson County Commission for approval and integration into the total County Concurrency Plan which has to be submitted to the State in November. Through this State designed and mandated procedure, it appears that "Impact Fees" will come to Jackson County, without voter involvement or approval.
As the power point presentation came to an end, and the meeting room lights were turned up….a cold, fearful silence filled the room for several moments.

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