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Palm Coast Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021 3 weeks ago

Citing extraordinary circumstances, Flagler Schools doubles impact fees

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The rate increase is the first by the school district in 17 years
by: Brent Woronoff Staff Writer

Pending Flagler County Commission approval, school impact fees for single family homes will be doubling on Dec. 1.

At its Aug. 17 meeting, the Flagler County School Board finalized its plan to raise impact fees for single-family homes from $3,600 to $7,175, multi-family homes from $931 to $1,774 and mobile homes from $1,066 to $5,279.

School impact fees are a one-time levy assessed on new construction to help pay for future school expansion based on projected student growth.

This is the first time the School Board has voted to raise impact fees since November 2004. To do so, the board had to show extraordinary circumstances to sidestep a new state law that limits impact fee increases to 50% implemented over a four-year period.

School impact fees for single-family homes are going up from $3,600 to $7,175, multi-family homes from $931 to $1,774 and mobile homes from $1,066 to $5,279.

The School Board hired the TischlerBise firm to perform an impact fee study.

Citing the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research the study projected a future student growth rate of 40% over the next 10 years.

That figure was adjusted to 23.3%, said Patty Bott, Flagler Schools’ coordinator of Planning and Intergovernmental Relations.

“There are low, medium and high BEBR figures,” Bott said. “Originally we were using the high BEBR figures. But we went with the medium BEBR.”

The medium BEBR projected a student population increase of 247 from 2020 to 2021. But the actual increase has been well over 500 excluding the Imagine charter school and pre-K programs.

“The BEBR high figures actually are accurate to where we are now,” Bott said. “But after meeting with stakeholders we agreed to be as conservative as possible.”

But Annamaria Long, the executive officer of the Flagler Home Builders Association, said the School Board’s impact fee increase is anything but conservative.

Long questions the student growth projections and said current construction challenges involving supply and labor shortages are preventing homes being built at the rate the study suggests.

“Houses are not being built fast enough to support 4,000 students coming into the area,” said Long, citing the high BEBR figure. “Lumber prices and availability are worse than we’ve ever seen them. We’re seeing lead times on flooring, cabinets, counter tops, appliances, in some cases as much as four times of what we’re used to.”

Construction costs are already higher than ever and doubling school impact fees will only price more would-be home owners out of the market, Long said.

“There is not a mechanism to create money for student stations without impact fees unless you borrow money and pay over time.”

TREVOR TUCKER, Flagler County School Board chairman

“People who move here from more expensive areas, they have the money,” she said. “But residents already here, they’re the ones who will suffer, like adult children saving for a home of their own. Rental rates are already astronomical and they will increase because the multi-family impact fee is being raised as well.”

The impact fee increases will allow the school district to carry out its five-year plan to build an addition on Matanzas High School to put it more in line with Flagler Palm Coast’s capacity and to study the need for a new middle school, Bott said.

“There is not a mechanism to create money for student stations without impact fees unless you borrow money and pay over time,” said Flagler County School Board Chairman Trevor Tucker.

Tucker said the new state law limiting impact fee increases has sent a sense of urgency across municipalities and school districts.

“A lot of people haven’t raised their impact fees in a long time,” he said. “So what has happened is people have raised (them) really quick. The state really needs to have a systematic way to do this. But what we have is, ‘This is your time frame, you have to have extraordinary circumstances and a study to prove it,’ which we did.”

Long wonders why another study by Davis Demographics, commissioned by the School Board just a year ago, showed just a 2% growth over the next 10 years.

Bott said that study didn’t include all of the ITT platted lots.

“I don’t know why people are moving here,” Tucker said, “But they definitely are.”

Since the last school impact fee increase 17 years ago, a student station’s cost has gone up about $10,000 for elementary and middle schools and $13,000 for high schools, the study shows.

The school district was required to hold public workshops in advance of the board’s vote to raise fees. Long said the FHBA was happy to have a seat at the table, but the group’s concerns weren’t necessarily heard.

“There’s a misconception that big bad builders don’t pay their part,” she said. “They do pay their part, sometimes in high numbers.”

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