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LEGISLATURE MAY KILL CONTROVERSIAL IMPACT FEES

SHARE LEGISLATURE MAY KILL CONTROVERSIAL IMPACT FEES

If local school officials want to impose building impact fees like those in Park City, they better hurry. A number of Utah legislators don't like the fees, so there may be an attempt to outlaw them in the 1995 Legislature.

Impact fees are "one way to get around equalization," complained Taz Biesinger, executive vice president of the Utah Home Builders Association, which opposes the fees.And several members of the Revenue and Taxation Interim Study Committee agree.

Through an interlocal agreement, the Summit County Commission recently approved hefty impact fees on new homes built within the Park City School District. Next week, the Park City Council is scheduled to take up similar impact fees, school district officials said.

Burke Jolley, Park City School District business administrator, said the special fees - $3,393 on a residential home that is a primary residence, $848 on a secondary residence such as a condominium - are needed because new families moving into the district mean construction of new schools.

The district itself doesn't have the legal authority to impose such building fees, only county and city governments can. The county has agreed, and the city may also.

But allowing a school district to collect building fees - and keeping all of such fees itself - means that fee money isn't shared with other districts. For years, property taxes for schools have been "equalized." Property taxes collected from all school districts flow into the State Uniform School Fund and then the money is distributed to the school districts according to student population.

Just last year, capital - or construction - funds were equalized as well. Such equalization is aimed at keeping so-called "rich" districts, such as Park City, from having public schools that are vastly superior to those in "poor" districts.

But impact fees, which traditionally include such items as water and sewer hook-up fees, aren't equalized. So, Park City School District can keep - and not share - the estimated $1 million in new fees that it will collect next year.

"Already you (Park City) have more money per student than most other districts in the state," said committee co-chairman Rep. Byron Harward, R-Provo.

Building impact fees "is one way for Park City to keep more money - not have to equalize it," Harward said.

Jolley said Park City's per-student expenditure isn't much different than other districts, maybe slightly higher. That's the result produced by equalization.

But the school district is undergoing tremendous growth, he said. The district can't borrow money to build more schools because it has topped out on its ability to service more bonded indebtedness.

Student population grew by 9 percent a year since 1980. It's increased by 12 percent a year in the past five years. A new elementary school will open next year, but within two years either another middle school or another high school must be built.

Because it is often new homes that bring new students, the district wants those new people to pay for the "impact" they're having on the schools.

If the Legislature doesn't act, maybe the courts will. Biesinger said his group believes Park City's actions violate several laws, including double taxation. "They are charging for (schools) with the fee, then charging for (schools) again through the normal property taxes the new homeowner pays," he said.