Franklin County commissioners, Pasco School District at impasse about impact fees

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldApril 9, 2014 

Franklin County commissioners continued to show little interest Wednesday in allowing the Pasco School District to charge impact fees to developers of new homes in unincorporated areas.

A letter signed by Pasco School Board members asks commissioners to implement the $4,700 per new home fee, which the city of Pasco has done since April 2012.

If the county doesn't take action, the school district will deny future requests by developers to build new subdivisions in the county unless they voluntarily pay fees, the letter said.

"The district is unable to make adequate provisions of schools without such mitigation," the letter said.

The fees are needed because of 5 percent growth each year for the past 10 years, the letter said. The growth has added 7,000 students to the district in that time.

"While we support growth, as we informed you in 2011, the district does not have space in its schools to serve the growth," the letter said. "The district needs new development that places demands on the school facilities to contribute to a portion of the cost for schools."

Commissioners said at Wednesday's meeting that the fees are unfair to new homeowners.

Commissioner Brad Peck said the school district should be more "forward looking" to anticipate growth when it has bond elections.

"If the notion is that building a new home creates an impact and that you have to pay more than your neighbor," Peck said, "it's the same as saying someone who builds a five-bedroom house has to pay more than someone in a two-bedroom house because they put more kids into the school."

Peck also questioned why no one from the district attended the meeting. But John Morgan, the district's assistant superintendent of operations, told the Herald afterward that school officials haven't been allowed to speak at previous meetings on the issue.

"For three years, we've been asking them to take a vote on impact fees," Morgan said. "We've never had the opportunity to present to them as we have the city council and other groups."

The State Environmental Policy Act gives growing school districts the authority to collect other payments from developers if impact fees aren't allowed. Morgan said the school district has worked with three home developers on money to offset impact fees in recent years.

But, though developers are willing to pay, the school district would rather have a standard county fee in place, Morgan said.

"You really would like to have where you don't have to mitigate on an individual basis, individual basis, individual basis," he said. "It's much easier to have an impact fee on the books."

Commissioner Rick Miller said the fees should have been implemented 20 years ago, before the area's explosive growth. That would have made them more affordable.

"They would have paid $200 a house and it would have been done," he said.

Now, some families may be forced out of home ownership because developers add the fee onto the price for a house, Peck said.

Impact fees have been blamed by developers for a decrease in new home construction in Pasco, a sentiment echoed by Roger Lenk, who has fought the city and school district.

"It makes it much more market competitive not to have an impact fee," Lenk told commissioners.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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