MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) –Pocketbook politics are heating up in Manatee County over whether developers or taxpayers should shoulder the weight of paying for new schools.
Right now, the Manatee School Board and Manatee County Commission want money from both sources, but are giving developers a big break in helping fund the district’s $700 million annual budget to educate 48,000 students.
Critics claim that’s because the school board has long been in the pocket of developers who don’t like pay impact fees of $6,400 for every new home they build, funds that are earmarked for new schools. “All you have to do is look at their political contributions,” says Linda Schaich, a candidate for school board. “They’re holding it like a loaded gun to the heads of taxpayer either you give us this sales tax or you’re not going to get this new school in Parrish.”
There are two issues at hand–the impact fee for developers and the half penny sales tax that is on the November ballot. The school board and county commission have already agreed to reinstate the impact fee, but are giving builders a 50% discount the first year and phasing in the full amount over three years.
Meanwhile, the district is pushing for renewal of the half penny sales tax as a more flexible and quicker way to fund a new high school in Parrish and four more schools later to relieve overcrowding.
“Our number one concern is where do we get the most bang from our buck and we get that from the sales tax,” said Manatee District Superintendent Diana Greene. She insists that politics have nothing to do with her recommendation to push the sales tax while going easy on developers.
“I’m not running for office,” said Greene.”I’m here to make the best decision for our school district and what’s in the best interest of our students and the number one funding source that will help us build that high school in the next three years is an extension of the sales tax.”
But, tax critic Ed Goff insists the district has forgone as much as $90 in capital funds since eliminating the developer impact fee back in 2009. Goff has done extensive research on school finances and elaborates in great detail on his website. He claims the funding plan is skewed by the district’s longtime allegiance to developers who contribute generously to the campaigns of some candidates. “”It’s very simple,” said Goff. “The school board is owned by developers.
Two current school board members appear to be of like minds with Goff and Schaich. Dave “Watchdog” Minor insists he’s been in favor of making developers pay their fair share for years. “I was the only one in 2013 who supported renewing the impact fees that time,” Minor said “The important thing is we are connecting impact fees and we are collecting impact fees right now.”
The current School Board Vice Chairman Charlie Kennedy joined the board in 2014 and insists he understands why there are such strong feelings among critics about making developers pay their fair share instead of shifting the burden of building new schools to taxpayers through the half penny sales tax. “They do make a compelling argument,” said Kennedy. “Why in the past would we have given a break to the development and building g community and then put it on the backs of property taxpayers and those who are paying the sales tax.”
Kennedy believes after the November election, the Manatee School Board will reconsider the developer discount and start charging builders 100%, something he favors doing right now, but is in the minority. “It’s undeniable that we are heading on a new and improved path,” said Kennedy.
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