Pasco needs better plan for dealing with growth

Pasco's conditional approval of a 50-duplex subdivision this week provides a stopgap solution to a school overcrowding problem in dire need of a permanent fix.

The council voted 6-to-1 to require the project's developer to negotiate a mitigation fee with the Pasco School District. The money will help the district deal with additional overcrowding caused by the new development.

It doesn't appear that Pasco had a choice. City officials contend that state law requires municipalities to determine if existing schools, streets, sidewalks and parks can handle the increase in population.

If the infrastructure isn't already in place, permits for the development cannot be issued without mitigation plans to address the shortcomings. In this case, Pasco schools don't have capacity for more students.

The district may move to a staggered, all-year schedule at its elementary and middle schools next fall to ease overcrowding. The move would help but not resolve the issue.

The district currently has room for about 13,000 students. Initial estimates put this year's figure at about 15,800 students -- a 6 percent increase over last year. That number is expected to rise to 17,500 by 2013.

Juggling schedules cannot accommodate projected growth. It's going to take new buildings. If the law didn't point to new development to mitigate the need, common sense would. The link between new housing and increased enrollment is a direct line.

But dealing with each development as it comes along, deciding whether it will strain existing resources, then enter mitigation negotiations, is an awfully haphazard approach to a community's future.

A fixed impact fee on all new development in the Pasco School District makes more sense than a piecemeal approach. It's past time for Franklin County and the city of Pasco to stop sidestepping the issue.

By setting a fixed fee, school officials and developers know what to expect from the outset. That's got to be easier on everyone, assuming the mitigation fee is reasonable.

It's an admittedly tricky equation. The amount needs to be high enough to provide meaningful relief to Pasco's overcrowded schools but below the threshold that would drive home buyers away.

Engaging stakeholders in the conversation will be crucial to arriving at the right figure. In Albuquerque, N.M., a citizen committee was charged with recommending the city's impact fees.

Committee members included representatives from the real estate and development community, business and economic development organizations, and neighborhood groups.

No one is happy about adding fees to the already high cost of construction, but by including stakeholders in the process, a workable solution is almost assured.

Pasco and Franklin County ought to be consider a similar approach

Moving this issue to resolution is key to the city's future.