By Jack Mayne
The Highline School District has asked all the cities it serves – including Des Moines – to approve school impact fees to help it build funds to upgrade and replace aging and outdated schools, and the Burien City Council was the first to take up the request.
The Burien Council last Monday (Oct. 17) unanimously held up establishing the impact fee program until there could be a collaborative agreement on a proposal from Des Moines, SeaTac and Normandy Park.
Impact fees are one-time charges assessed by local governments on new development projects to help pay for new or expanded public facilities that will directly address the increased demand created by that development.
State law says such impact fees may only be used for capital facilities that are reasonably related to the new development, will directly benefit the new development, and will also serve the community at large – impact fees may not be used to pay for private facilities that solely benefit the new development.
All fees that would be collected by cities would go to the school district so, in effect, the city would collect money that the schools could use for upkeep or new facilities.
The Highline district encompasses all of Burien, SeaTac, Des Moines, Normandy Park and a part of Kent, plus parts of unincorporated King County.
State law must base any such school impact fees based on a capital facilities plan approved by the school board, but also part of all cities’ comprehensive plans.
Former Burien Deputy Mayor Rose Clark said this is a fee “that will help build and maintain schools that need to be enlarged … so I feel very strongly that it is a fair proposition to have growth pay for growth.”
Burien’s community development director, Chip Davis, pointed to a letter from Highline Superintendent Susan Enfield that supports the impact fee and “provides a defensible fee and accurately reflects capacity costs related to new development.”
Burien City Councilmember Austin Bell supported the fee to “keep our schools from being overcrowded.”
Ask the other cities
But Burien Councilmember Nancy Tosta said that the Highline District is complicated because there are cities and a portion of the city of Kent, plus unincorporated King County in it with Kent and the county already paying into the fund.
“For me it would make sense for us to do this as a group of cities in the Highline School District and to do it simultaneous because if we pass this fee and Des Moines, SeaTac and Normandy Park don’t, what kind of an inequity does that create in terms of development potential – or disincentive?” Tosta said.
Davis such a move in terms of the other cities would take time to put together.
Tosta added that the Highline Forum was created for such discussions and since it has not met in some time, perhaps this was an item that could be discussed by all the cities in the complex Highline School District.
Burien Mayor Krakowiak said “the timing of this is not the most effective” and also suggested a tiered fee might be better and suggested “we work with other cities in Highline, we are the first ones looking” and the impact fees.
Burien Deputy Mayor Bob Edgar said he would like to look at tiered fees rather than the flat fees contemplated in the proposed ordinance.
But Burien Councilmember Steve Armstrong disagreed that the fee was needed, noting “not every new development is going to have children that will impact the schools … and I don’t think we should consider it at this time.”