School impact fees: city says builders need a break
MONROE - Lowering school impact mitigation fees quickly jumped from the 2013 docket straight to a public hearing last week, where it was met with staunch opposition from several members of the community.
The city is on a fast-track to push the City Council to approve increasing the discount on mitigation fees charged to housing developers. The city also wants to remove the fee from the comprehensive plan, a long-range planning document, and put it back in the hands of the City Council. This would make it easier for any council to change the fee amount.
The fees help offset the cost of adding more students to the Monroe School District. More kids require more space, and mitigation fees fund the creation of both permanent and temporary structures to house them.
The planning commission held a public hearing in order to make a recommendation to the council, but after two hours of testimony and deliberation decided to postpone its decision until its next meeting on Monday, Oct. 22. (After press time).
The proposed fee change would increase the discount for housing developers from 25 percent to 50 percent. The discount would lower the fee paid by single-family home developers by $992, dropping it from $2,976 with the 25 percent discount to $1,984 with the 50 percent discount. Multifamily home developers would save $1,632, dropping the fee from $4,804 to $3,172.
Residents and Monroe School Board members past and present showed up at the Oct. 15 meeting to tell the planning commission why decreasing mitigation revenue would be harmful to the district and ultimately the children it educates. Seven people spoke in opposition to the fee decrease and three showed up to support it. Supporters included representatives from the Master Builders Association and Snohomish-Camano Realtors, as well as a private builder from Everett.
“We look at mitigation fees to solve future problems,” current board member Jim Scott said. “We collect the fees at permit time so that by the time the kids show up we can be ready for them.”
Mitigation fees are specifically designated to pay only for a portion of the needed permanent structures, while the rest comes from bonds and matching state funds. But when an influx of new students show up, the district sometimes can’t wait for bond money to come in, Scott said. Mitigation fees allow the district to set up temporary structures like portables to house the incoming kids.
“We can’t turn any kids away, we have to take them all in,” Scott said.
Planning commissioner David Demarest seemed to lean toward favoring the school district, arguing that the city may not have a place in changing part of the district’s revenue.
“We’re not talking about the city’s fees, we’re talking about the school’s fees,” Demarest said. “Every time school fees have come before us we’ve realized it was more like housekeeping. It doesn’t feel like we’re doing that anymore. It feels like we’re making it more vulnerable to political change.”
Some city staff and council members saw a different side to the story of who needs the money more badly: the school district or the housing developers.
Economic development manager Jeff Sax stressed the importance of new residential development in the city and giving builders a break. Increasing the discount to developers would help decrease unemployment and boost the local economy.
“The City Council has to look at the city as a whole,” Sax said. “It’s the council’s role to look comprehensively at the entire package and to not get bogged down on a single issue; we’re getting bogged down.”
The number of homes will only increase the number of kids, Scott said.
“Mitigation fees let us keep up with growth; we’re already over capacity and we need the mitigation money,” Scott said.
Planning commissioner Bill Kristiansen said that with 34 portables currently being used in the district, it doesn’t seem like impact fees are making an impact on getting schools built. He seemed to favor giving the break to builders.
“The way I see it, if you have one house built at the 25 percent discount, it’s the same as having two houses built at the 50 percent discount,” Kristiansen said.
Scott countered that Kristiansen’s scenario was not the same and that his logic would ultimately hurt the school district.
“Now we have 1.2 kids (with two houses) instead of .6 kids (with one house),” Scott said, and added that these figures are the district average per household, which is “all we can go from in planning.”
Commissioner Wayne Rodland said it didn’t seem to him that mitigation fees are a permanent fix to the problem.
“I’m in favor of schools, but I’m not sure mitigation fees are the answer,” Rodland said.
The City Council will address the issue in early November.
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