Our Voice: Franklin County, Pasco should have equal school impact fees

We have a big divide between homes being built in Franklin County and those built in Pasco.

In the city of Pasco, leaders have acknowledged the explosive population growth of recent years and implemented an impact fee of $4,700 on each new home constructed. The decision was made at the request of the Pasco School District, because it has felt the impact of each additional household with a 5 percent growth rate for each of the past 10 years.

That adds up to 7,000 new students during that time, which has meant a lot of new school construction at a rapid pace to keep up with demand. And that means big costs. Last year, Pasco voters approved a $46.8 million bond measure to build new schools.

Pasco saw the logic of new homeowners taking on some additional responsibility for the cost of new schools. It's inherently fair, because new homes in the district directly drive the need for new schools.

But Franklin County commissioners apparently do not see it that way. Despite years of pleas from the school district, the commissioners have never even bothered to take a vote on the impact fee issue.

Pasco school board members again recently asked the commissioners to implement the fee, but the county's leadership did not take action. Those Franklin County commissioners like to keep their constituents happy, and we understand that. Builders will surely pass along the cost of the fees in the price of the new home. And that could possibly lead some to shy away from a home purchase.

The commissioners can continue to dismiss the impact fee issue but the school district ultimately wields a lot of power in this situation. In a letter to the commissioners, the district said it will deny future requests by developers for new subdivisions in the county unless they voluntarily pay impact fees.

Without a standard fee for builders in the county, the process is more challenging. If a developer wants to build, the impact fees could be part of the application process for the subdivision. But without a standard system, the district has to negotiate with each builder individually.

It stands to reason that new subdivisions are going to bring additional children to a school district. Sure, there are some childless households, but they still pay taxes to support schools whether kids live there or not. It's part of being a community member, and good schools add to property values.

Commissioners had lots of advice about what the district should have done in the past to avoid this situation, but that doesn't solve the problem at hand. More homes bring more kids, which places a greater demand on the school district. It's that simple.

Franklin County can continue to ignore the district's requests or it can see growth there decrease as the district begins to refuse to give the required approval for new construction. The district has to be able to confirm that it can adequately provide for the additional population each new home brings, and it says it can't without some financial help.

Having a standardized fee and system makes sense. But if the commissioners don't agree, the district will continue to get the money directly from the developers. State law allows it, and the school district has already made use of that in working with three developers in the county.

We'd hope commissioners would opt to become part of the solution, not an entity that prolongs a problem for the public they serve.