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School district discusses impact fees

John Colson

Appealing to developers’ sense of community directly and bypassing the city’s bureaucracy might more effectively bring in cash to offset development, Aspen School Board members are thinking.The Aspen School District has been in talks with the city about how best to get financial help from developers, known as impact fees, to pay for some of the costs schools face as a result of population growth. The city is working on updating how its impact fees work.District Finance Director Bill Anuszewski has been studying the issue and told the board this week that developers cannot be forced to “donate” money to the school district.But, Anuszewski said, there is a law that requires developers to donate land for new schools; it uses a complicated equation that estimates the number of students a development project might generate. But, he said, if individual projects donate small parcels of land, which is what would likely happen in Pitkin County, those parcels probably would be too small to build a school, and thus useless to the district.So the district uses yet another formula that allows developers to substitute cash for land donations, which then can be deposited in the district’s coffers. He said the Aspen district has collected roughly $409,000 that way since 1996. The base amount in requested donations for a development is $3,598 per bedroom.In addition, Anuszewski said, the district can use a “school capital costs recovery fee,” which he said is a new voluntary fee that the district asks of developers.”These two fees are really the only resources you have for asset capital improvements,” he told the school board at a recent meeting. The only other option, he said, is to take money out of the district’s operating revenues, which he indicated would be bad for the school district’s fiscal stability. He asked the board for direction on how he should proceed in talks with the city.A voluntary donation, noted board member Charla Belinski, “would be one way for them [developers] to give back [to the community]. It’s really a feel-good thing.”The land dedication fee, said board member Ernie Fyrwald, “makes no sense.” He said the amount – $3,598 per bedroom, or roughly $14,000 per four-bedroom home – are too high. He suggested that if it were $500 attached to the building permit fees for a house, “I think most people would pay it.”Board member Sally Hansen said that, in cases where a developer is trying to win approval from the city for a project, perhaps it would be a good idea for the school district to approach developers directly rather than work through the city’s community development planners. That way, she reasoned, developers could point to the school district’s support for a project as evidence that it should be approved.”Then there might be some incentive” for a developer to agree to a donation, she said.Board Chairwoman Laura Kornasiewicz told Anuszewski the district needs to be involved in upcoming city work sessions on the matter, at least to determine what kind of latitude the district has in terms of the amounts and methods of assessing impact fees.Kornasiewicz also suggested Anuszewski call the Brighton school district, which Anuszewski said has had some success in working with developers.The City Council is scheduled to take up the issue of impact fees at a work session Monday.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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