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Peace in sight on hike in fees
County and school leaders discuss a hike of impact fees, which will affect home costs.
By CHUIN-WEI YAP, Times Staff Writer
Published October 31, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - Hard feelings lingered, but the top brass of Pasco's school district and county government built a tenuous strategy Tuesday on how to keep schools from being overwhelmed by rapid population growth.
The School Board and County Commission, flanked by their top advisors, met for the third time this year in an attempt to meet a Feb. 1 state deadline for a plan.
The bottom line: The cost of building a new house might rise again.
Before the meeting, the two sides couldn't agree on whether to raise school impact fees (a tax on new construction). They couldn't agree on how many more students a school would be legally allowed to carry over its capacity, or even the meaning of capacity. They couldn't agree on how much the district should pay for road work around new school sites.
But by the end of the session, they at least had a vision of peace.
Two committees will now work out the details:
One is a 10-member private sector committee, to be jointly appointed by both school district and county staff, that will recommend how much impact fees will go up.
County Administrator John Gallagher signaled he's willing to support the district's proposal to triple the fees to $10,477 (up from $4,356 per home).
Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand, School Board Chairwoman Marge Whaley and their top staff advisers will form the second committee. They will work on Gallagher's proposal for an increase in the county's road impact fees - separate from school impact fees - earmarked for new schools.
It's an old quarrel that still makes tempers run high.
"This has been a nice meeting, and I don't want to get too excited," said County Attorney Robert Sumner, minutes after he threatened to submit an incomplete plan to state officials. "But if the other side's position is that we're going to do anything that the statute says, but not anything else. It's very hard to negotiate this way."
Gallagher recalled county planners' bitterness when they had to build a new road to accommodate a high school in Hudson, and accused school officials of making things difficult by placing the school's parking lot too far to the back.
Even his concessions may not face an easy passage.
Gallagher's olive branch - raising the county's road impact fees to help offset the impact of new schools - raised eyebrows even among his own bosses.
"This is the first I've heard of it," said Commissioner Pat Mulieri, seated directly to Gallagher's left. "I don't think it's going to fly."
And as Gallagher sent positive signals to bridge the gulf on school impact fees, Commissioner Ted Schrader piped up: "You still need your three votes."
But based on Gallagher's suggestion, Hildebrand and Whaley decided that they'll meet - one-on-one, accompanied only by their respective top advisers - to figure out how to ease the chronic disagreements on where each agency's financial responsibilities lie when it comes to road improvements around new schools.
It fell to School Board member Allen Altman to restate the fundamental problem. "Until you work out the boundaries, you can't determine who the funding source should be," he said.
After weeks of public acrimony, Tuesday was an occasion for give-and-take.
When Sumner asked the district to raise its overcapacity limit on high schools, assistant superintendent Ray Gadd inched toward agreement.
"But we'll want some assurance on the impact fees," he said.
Gallagher, nodding slightly, said: "We'll let the committee flesh it out. So it'll be $10,400, $9,200, whatever."
School superintendent Heather Fiorentino: "The only question is, can you flesh it out before Feb. 1?"