Sarasota, Manatee to Seek Funding for More Schools


SARASOTA, FLORIDA, September 5th, 2015 – County officials in Sarasota and Manatee are set to decide towards end-2015 on how to secure funding for the additional schools deemed needed following the recent wave of residential property developments in the region. The restoration of school impact fees and loan borrowings are in the radar screen of both counties to finance the establishment of these new schools.

In Sarasota, a consulting firm hired by the county’s school district has recommended the construction of seven new schools—five elementary, one middle, and one high school—within the next 25 years. During this period, the consultant foresees some 14,000 new students enrolling within the district, mostly in southern and eastern Sarasota County.

Recalibrating school impact fees

Sarasota, Manatee to Seek Funding for More Schools

Establishing seven new schools will cost the county an estimated $343 million, including land acquisition. Half of this amount can be raised if Sarasota restores its school impact fee of $7,835 for building a single-family home. This one-time levy imposed for each new home construction was suspended due to the housing downturn sometime in 2010, a moratorium which expires this December 2015.

The local sentiment though is that the county’s former school impact fee would have to be lowered by 20% to 50%. Frank Kovach, Sarasota School Board chairman, feels that the $7,835 impact fee appears onerous and unfair particularly to retirees going for Sarasota homes for sale in new communities but won’t directly benefit from such a levy.

With this thinking, Kovach adds that it is certain that Sarasota would “have to borrow money” for the new schools, and new home buyers are likely to see impact fees again but at a recalibrated level. No major hurdle appears with the county tapping lenders for new school buildings as Sarasota enjoys excellent credit rating as shown in the “AA+” that the New York-based Fitch Ratings gave to the county’s recent bond issues.

Parallel moves in Manatee

In Manatee, the county may have some fine tuning to do to further improve its credit standing, but securing a loan at favorable rates to fund building new schools remains a distinct possibility for its government agencies. Just in January 2015, Fitch affirmed the Manatee County school board’s ratings at “BBB” and revised its outlook to positive from negative.

Like in Sarasota, moves are also underway to reinstate the school impact fee in Manatee which has been suspended since 2009. This levy could be restored at the earliest in 2016 and in the process raise some $6 million annually from the new property developments in the county.

Filling northeast needs

Currently, the Manatee school district is already operating at 90% capacity overall. It says it will need to start building new schools by 2018. These are planned in Manatee’s northeast corridor, consisting of three new facilities aimed for completion by 2019.

To set its school building plan in motion, the school district, in addition to seeking the impact fee reinstatement, will have to ask county taxpayers in a 2016 referendum for the approval of $150 million in bonds issuance. The district will also seek an extension of the current half-cent sales tax expiring in 2017 and taxpayers’ approval of an extra millage point in school property taxes to fund additional school operating costs.