With some reluctance, the Clark County Council on Tuesday adjusted a series of school impact fees that are expected to add to the cost of housing in some parts of the county.
The county requires homebuilders to pay school impact fees. The money is used by local school districts to pay for buildings and other facilities needed to accommodate increased enrollment from families moving into the new homes. The fees are included in the capital facilities plans of each of the county’s nine school districts. They are calculated using a formula that takes into account bond and levy rates, as well as how many kids are expected to enroll and whether they live in multi or single-family housing.
“It’s consistent, it’s objective, it’s applied the same way and it takes into account local preferences for districts and how they design and build schools in their community and what they want,” said Marnie Allen, legal counsel for the county’s school districts, speaking before the council.
At its Tuesday evening meeting, the council held hearings on updates to the capital facility plans for La Center, Evergreen, Hockinson and Woodland school districts. It also held a hearing readopting the plan for the Ridgefield school district, with a particularly steep increase in its school impact fees.
Ryan Makinster, government affairs director for the Building Industry Association of Clark County, told the council that increased fees, as well as other costs, will be passed on to the homebuyers.
The council approved each fee increase unanimously. But councilor’s remarks demonstrated that they were uncomfortable with how the increases would affect housing affordability.
“It’s difficult to assess high fees for all the reasons we know,” said Clark County Councilor Julie Olson. “At the same time, we have to find ways to continue to fund infrastructure.”
The Ridgefield School District asked for the greatest increase, with the $6,530 fee (for both single and multi-family housing) rising to $10,100 in 2020. The district had asked that the fee be raised in 2021 to $11,290. But the council only approved the first increase out of concerns of its impact on the cost of housing and that it would create a rush of developments to be approved under the lower fee.
The Ridgefield School District is expected to approach the county with an update to its capital facilities plan next year, and councilors noted that they could revisit the fee then.
The Ridgefield School District asked for such a big increase because of increased demand that has accompanied the city’s rapid growth in recent years, a trend that’s expected to continue as more land opens up for residential development. The city of Ridgefield has increased its school impact fees for development within city limits. The county increased its fee to bring it in closer line with the city’s.
Nathan McCann, the district’s superintendent, said that there is broad community support for raising the fees and pointed to a survey conducted by the city of Ridgefield showing that the number one reason people are moving there is the quality of schools.
“It’s a real community and they are asking us to do this, so that speaks a lot,” said Olson, a former Ridgefield school board member who represents the area on the council.