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Mount Vernon School District asking for increase in fees on construction

October 7, 2018

MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon School District is asking the city of Mount Vernon to increase fees on the construction of single-family homes by $2,763 to help pay for capital projects in the district.

Such school district impact fees are used to supplement school bonds in funding new construction. They shift some of the costs of capital projects from current residents to new development, Mount Vernon School District Superintendent Carl Bruner said.

“The point of impact fees is to have new development contribute to impacts on schools,” he said. “It’s a way to have new growth bear part of the burden.”

The district’s request for an increase has raised questions from the Mount Vernon City Council, which has made an effort to lower the costs of development.

Revenue from the fee can only be used for capital projects, not on personnel or operations, he said.

Bruner said the district uses a formula — widely used by other districts in the state — to determine the number of students created by a new housing unit and how much those students cost the district.

According to the formula, a single-family home creates a $14,495 impact on the district. When the district last evaluated impact fees in 2014, that number was $8,646.

Cities can set impact fees lower than the dollar figure calculated by the district.

Currently, the fees are discounted by 23 percent, making the $8,646 figure determined by the district $6,658.

Going forward, the district board has suggested a discount of 35 percent on the revised impact cost of $14,495, which would set fees at $9,421.

“I think the school board’s decision ... was made with the best interest of our students and our school district in mind,” Bruner said.

He said the district has seen consistent yearly growth of about 1 to 1.5 percent in student enrollment for about 15 years.

The reason the district is asking for the increase in fees now is that for the first time in a decade it is building new schools.

“It’s easy to look at neighboring districts and say ‘look at them, (their fees) are lower,’” he said. “But you have to at the context.”

Harriet Rowley Elementary School opened this September, and the district is in the process of rebuilding Madison Elementary School.

Since 2014, construction costs have gone up rapidly throughout the region, Bruner said. Each of the elementary school projects cost about $42 million to plan, design and build.

When the district last evaluated impact fees in 2014, Bruner said the board did not factor in expansion for Mount Vernon High School, which the district plans to do within five years.

The Mount Vernon City Council must approve the fee rate, per state law, because the city collects impact fees for the district.

City Councilman Richard Brocksmith was one of the council members questioning the increase at a meeting in early August.

Higher fees for development is “the opposite direction (the city) wants to be going in,” he said.

In June, the City Council reduced the city’s traffic impact fees by about $2,500 for residential construction to make it easier for developers to build.

This district’s proposal is only a recommendation, and the Mount Vernon City Council gets to choose the amount, Bruner said.

“If it went to a 50 percent discount, it would be more in line with our hope,” Brocksmith said.

Not counting school impact fees, the city collects about $13,100 in fees and utility hook-ups on the construction of a single-family home, according to city documents.

Before the end of the year, the council will have a discussion on what the discount rate should be, Brocksmith said.

Bruner said the district would be willing to consider waiver program to reduce or eliminate impact fees on low-income housing projects.

“A common interest we share with the school district board is to support affordable housing development in Mount Vernon,” Brocksmith said.

He said he would be interested in a fee scale that would take into consideration the cost of the home in question.

“We really need housing inventory of all kinds,” Brocksmith said.

Bruner said the district is asking for a significantly lower per-unit impact fee for apartment complexes or other multifamily developments — only $1,134, or a $250 increase over the current rate.

Bruner wouldn’t say if he expects the district will in coming years request impact fees to remain high but said the district has aspirations to keep building over the next five years.

Mount Vernon High School, for instance, will be at about 2,000 students within three years, he said. It is currently housing about 1,800 students, which is more than the facility is equipped to handle.

“Eighteen-hundred is above what it can reasonably house,” he said. “That’s why we have 17 portables there.”

Capacity for additional growth is needed at all grade levels, he said.

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