Building new housing in unincorporated Clark County is poised to become more — or less — expensive depending on the school district.
On Tuesday, the Clark County Council will hold a hearing for the capital facilities plan for five school districts. The plans lay out the facilities each district plans to build through 2025 and how they will be funded, which will have a direct effect on the price of a new home.
Each plan includes adjustments to school impact fees, which are paid by developers for each unit of housing they build in unincorporated Clark County. The fees are intended to help pay for the increased demand on school districts created by the new housing and are commonly passed on to buyers or renters.
The proposed updates to the school impact fees vary widely and would go into effect in February 2020 if approved. For Evergreen Public Schools district, the fees are slated to drop by over half from $7,641 to $3,753 per unit for multifamily housing. The La Center School District is also asking to drop its school impact fees from $4,111 to $3,501 per unit for single-family and $5,095 to $3,104 for multifamily housing.
Other district are seeking increases. The Woodland School District wants to increase its fees for multifamily housing from $2,500 to $5,900 per unit and single-family housing from $5,000 to $5,900.
“Although we are always concerned about increases in impact fees, most of the requests seem reasonable, especially when we consider that they are intended to support our schools,” said Ryan Makinster, government affairs director for the Building Industry Association of Clark County, in an email.
However, he singled out the particularly steep increase requested by the Ridgefield School District for concern over how it could adversely affect the county’s affordable housing problem.
The fast-growing Ridgefield School District is seeking the largest increase. For single-family housing, the fee would be phased in from $6,530 to $10,100 per unit in 2020 and to $11,290 in 2021. For multifamily, the fee would increase from $6,530 to $10,100 in 2020 and to $11,290 in 2021.
Makinster said combined impact fees for a new house in the Mount Vista area that falls in the Ridgefield School District would tally almost $25,000.
“It’s hard,” said Clark County Councilor Julie Olson, whose district includes the Ridgefield area. “Impact fees are always hard because it goes on to the price of the house.”
But she added that as school facilities are built, the fees will come down and that “infrastructure has to be paid for.”
How fees work
Marnie Allen, the legal counsel for Clark County’s school districts, said the county requires schools to update their capital facility plans every four years. It most recently happened in 2015. She said that the way the school impact fees are calculated comes down to planning and math.
“It assigns a portion of the cost to build schools,” she said.
Allen said that under the Growth Management Act, the state’s overreaching land use law, new development can’t be charged for all of the new infrastructure needed to accommodate it. So the formula is used to determine the share developers and the public pay for planned facilities, she said. That formula anticipates how many kids are likely to be in each housing unit and takes into account each district’s tax and bond levy rates, she explained.
She said that the fluctuating number of students also impacts the fee. She said that the number of school-age children living in multifamily housing decreased in the Evergreen school district, resulting in a lower proposed rate. Woodland saw a steep increase in its proposed multifamily rate because of a new housing development that’s home to many school-age children, she said.
Voters in the Evergreen school district passed a $695 million bond last year and two levies this year, which Allen said meant a lower calculated rate for multifamily housing. La Center passed bonds in 2017 and 2018, which meant a drop in its rates.
She said that Clark County’s four other school districts will revisit their capital facilities plans next year.
Why is Ridgefield’s high?
Ridgefield School District faces unique circumstances as it considers the future needs of its educational facilities.
In June, the Washington State Office of Financial Management released figures that found that Ridgefield was the state’s fastest-growing city, with its population rising 15.44 percent from 2018 to nearly 9,000 people.
That growth has meant more demand on its school district, which serves a population of 2,307. The roughly $75 million capital facilities plan for the Ridgefield school district calls for a new elementary, middle and high school.
“It’s historic what Ridgefield is facing as far as growth,” Joseph Vance, a Ridgefield school board member, told the Clark County Planning Commission in July.
He said that the district’s latest five-year projection anticipated adding the equivalent of the Hockinson School District. Vance also pointed out that a $77 million bond sought by the district in February was voted down.
The district’s growing pains are likely to increase after the Clark County Council voted earlier this month to advance a plan to allow the development of about 2,000 acres of land north of Vancouver.
Olson said that the county isn’t acting on its own to increase the fees and has the support of the district as well as other members of the community. In May, Ridgefield Mayor Don Stose, Ridgefield school board Chair Scott Gullickson and Ridgefield Port Commission Chair Bruce Wiseman wrote to the council to consider the impact of the new development on schools.
Cities charge a separate school impact fee rate for development that occurs within their jurisdictions. This is a different fee than the one charged for development in unincorporated Clark County, which has been lower than the city of Ridgefield’s.
According to the letter, the county’s lower fee created an $11 million difference in funding levels. In their letter, the three asked the county council to require new development to pay the same school impact fee rate adopted by the Ridgefield City Council this year. According to the letter, the city council increased the rate by 25 percent to $8,883 per unit (which applies to both single and multifamily housing).
When contacted by The Columbian, Stose, who is also a member of Citizens for Ridgefield Schools, said that the county’s proposed rate seemed reasonable. The county’s rates will be higher than the city’s. But Stose said that the city’s rate is tied to the changes in the Consumer Price Index, meaning it will rise automatically.
“Impact fees don’t pay for 100 percent of the cost of building schools,” he said. “But it helps tremendously.”