Camas School District asks city for impact fee exemption

School officials also request code change

By Heather Acheson, Columbian staff writer

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The Camas City Council will likely approve a resolution that exempts the School District from paying thousands of dollars in traffic impact fees for the Woodburn Elementary School project, but they stopped short of agreeing to consider changing city code so that the same exemption would apply to all future projects.

During the Jan. 3 workshop, Camas School District Superintendent Mike Nerland and Capital Programs Manager Heidi Rosenberg asked that the city waive approximately $143,250 in TIF fees on the Woodburn Elementary project.

Construction began on the district’s sixth elementary school, located on a 12.8-acre site just north of Lacamas Park on Crown Road, in August and it will open in fall 2013. Approximately 400 homes are expected to eventually be included in the subdivision surrounding the new school.

Rosenberg said the formal request was being made because the district wants to focus its dollars on classroom improvements.

Nerland said, if the exemption isn’t approved, funding to pay for the TIF fees would have to come out of the school district’s general fund.

“We don’t have a mechanism to apply for a state or federal grant to cover that,” he explained.

Rosenberg pointed out that the project should be exempt because impacts on local roads are lessened because elementary school hours are not during peak weekday hours, and classes are not in session year-round.

Councilwoman Linda Dietzman said she is in favor of granting the exemption for Woodburn Elementary.

“I can uphold the idea of the exemption itself because it is for the good of the citizens and for the good of the city,” she said. “It makes sense.”

Nerland and Rosenberg also requested that the City Council amend current city code so that all elementary and middle schools built in the future would be exempt from paying traffic impact fees.

Currently, the code states that the City Council can on a case-by-case basis opt to exempt a school district from paying all or a portion of impact fees.

According to Rosenberg, Vancouver and Battle Ground both have polices that exempt public schools from having to pay traffic impact fees, which are assessed on new development to help fund transportation improvements that will be needed as development occurs.

City Administrator Lloyd Halverson said in the recent past the City has not collected TIF funds from the school district on previous elementary and middle school projects based on “good faith interpretation of our ordinances.”

During the workshop, Council members seemed in agreement that each school district project should continue to be reviewed on an individual basis, and a permanent change to the current code that would make all elementary and middle schools exempt from TIF payments would not be in the city’s best interest.

City Councilman Don Chaney said he was concerned about having funding available for the city’s streets, which has been an issue in recent years.

In 2010, a proposal to implement a $20 vehicle licensing fee as part of a transportation benefit district was explored by the city. The fee was discussed as one of several long-term options to support road maintenance, although as of yet it has not been pursued aggressively.

“Ultimately, we may find ourselves having to go back to the citizens to ask for more money to fix our streets,” Chaney said, adding that if that situation becomes a reality it could be difficult to explain why the city decided to not collect the TIF funding from the school district.

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said in 2012 the city finds itself in a more favorable economic situation than originally predicted, and is able to make do without the $143,250 from the school district. But, he said, that might not be the case in the future.

“We may not always be so fortunate to have these funds,” he said.

The City Council is expected to vote on a resolution to exempt the school district from paying the $143,200 in TIF fees for the Woodburn Elementary School project during an upcoming meeting.