Glitch left Evergreen Public Schools $1.2 million short on fees

School district, city of Vancouver settle issue

By Katy Sword, Columbian staff writer

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A glitch at the city of Vancouver left the Evergreen school district minus about $1.2 million of its expected construction school impact fees, according to the city and the district.

The city had raised its school impact fees at the beginning of last year, but due to an administrative error that increase didn’t take effect until March 16, 2016, when city staff noticed the mistake.

During that stretch, the city collected impact fees based on the older rate from Rotschy Inc., the developer of the Trio Pointe Apartments, a 240-unit complex just south of Union High School. The one-time fee for a single-family home decreased from $6,989 to $6,100 in 2016, but the fee for multifamily developments increased significantly from $2,678 to $7,641 per unit.

The district should have collected $1,833,840 from school impact fees for the construction, but instead received $647,290 — leaving $1,186,550 in fees the district should have received but that the city did not collect. Overall, the district collected $2,475,015.73 from Clark County and Vancouver in construction fees last year, about two-thirds what it should have.

“You can see the magnitude of just this one apartment complex,” said Gail Spolar, spokeswoman for Evergreen Public Schools.

School impact fees can only cover building projects — new construction, buying property or improving buildings, for example.

“We can’t use them on textbooks,” Spolar said.

Chad Eiken, Vancouver community and economic development director, said the issue occurred because of failed communication.

“One group took the ordinance changes to the city council and council approved them and set the effective date,” Eiken said. “Then there wasn’t good communication to the group that would be changing the fee calculations in the system, so they weren’t brought into the loop like they should have been.”

Evergreen wasn’t the only school district to miss out on funds. Vancouver Public Schools came to a similar agreement for missed funds with the city in August 2016. Vancouver school district missed out on $386,020 in school impact fees due to the error.

“There were more projects approved in Vancouver school district but the agreements are really similar structurally,” Eiken said.

To remedy the situation, the city approved an interlocal agreement with Evergreen on Monday evening. The district will receive the nearly $1.2 million in “actual credit” to use in the next 15 years. Evergreen can use its credit with the city to offset development or building fees for any school construction. The agreement also states that the city may contribute real estate or partner with the school district on capital facility improvements that are typically the sole responsibility of Evergreen, such as street frontage improvements. The credit can also be used to develop facilities that benefit the community, such as a playground or park, in partnership with the city.

Eiken said the agreement with Evergreen was delayed because the district didn’t have immediate capital project plans. There were also several months of discussions between the district and the city concerning who was responsible to collect the fee.

“Initially, when we first started talking about it there was disagreement as to who should be on the hook and who should collect the money from the developer because we are basically just collecting it as a service and passing it through,” he said. “The Evergreen agreement wasn’t too contentious at all, they just said as long as we’re getting the same agreement as Vancouver we’re happy.”

Once the error was discovered, Eiken said the city immediately corrected its system and fees from new developments are correct.

Staff reporter Katie Gillespie contributed to this report.