Kent City Council approves school impact fee cap

Vote in response to high request from Federal Way Public Schools

Sally McLean

Sally McLean

The Kent City Council voted unanimously to put a cap on school impact fees because of what it says are attempts by Federal Way Public Schools to use a high fee to “prevent” new multifamily residential developments.

Councilman Dennis Higgins said prior to the Tuesday night vote that he supports impact fees to help school districts handle an increased number of students because of new developments. But he opposed Federal Way’s proposal last year to hike the impact fee for each multifamily residential unit to $20,086 per unit from $8,386 per unit in 2016 and supports a cap because of that request.

“I voted not to allow them to do that for good reason … it’s a misuse of impact fees to prevent development,” Higgins said. “Hiking them so absurdly more than double the previous high in the entire state – which was $10,822 at the Lake Washington School District – to over $20,000, there’s something going on here and something broken in the system.

“When they put a hold on all development – which is effectively what they have done with this fee – I think we’ve got to push back.”

A Federal Way Public Schools spokeswoman disagreed that it’s trying to prevent development but rather came up with the fee based on a formula set by King County officials.

“This is a material misstatement as school impact fees are calculated annually in accordance to a longstanding set formula – FWPS does not dictate the terms of this formula,” said spokeswoman Kassie Swenson in an email. “This set formula is used to calculate developers’ proportionate share of the cost of building new school capacity to serve students who enroll in the FWPS district after moving to new housing developments in our school boundaries. Fees fluctuate from year to year based on the variables established in the formula which is used by all school districts collecting school impact fees.

“Two factors in the formula calculation that are affecting the current FWPS’ school impact fees are the number of children enrolling in our schools from new multi-family development is more than five times higher than the King County average; and we have costs of construction to create additional school capacity due to the passage of the November 2017 FWPS bond.”

In December, the city of Federal Way approved the higher rate for FWPS.

The city of Kent will set a cap of $8,386 per multifamily units and $8,229 per single-family homes. So if a developer wanted to build a 200-unit apartment complex, the school impact fee would be about $1.6 million that the city would collect for the school district. A $20,086 per unit fee would cost a developer of 200 apartments about $4 million.

Hayley Bonsteel, city long range planning manager, told the council prior to its vote that to allow such a large increase in the fee would halt developments.

“It sets up precedent that any fee that a school district suggests to us that we would just administer without having any limit to that – if that would to halt development – which we believe any reasonable person would agree a $20,000 per unit fee would halt development – that’s a building moratorium,” Bonsteel said. “Impact fees are not an appropriate way to handle growth.”

The city of Kent collects fees for the Kent, Auburn, Federal Way and Highline schools, whose districts all cross into city boundaries. Federal Way has three schools in Kent.

Two Kent residents and a Auburn School District representative told the council they opposed a cap. Federal Way Public Schools didn’t send a representative to the meeting, but a school official testified at a council committee meeting May 14 in opposition of the fee cap, claiming it needed the high fee to handle a large increase in student population from residential developments.

“I don’t think this will be a surprise – Federal Way Public Schools strongly opposes this proposal,” said Sally McLean, chief finance and operations officer for Federal Way Public Schools, at the council’s committee meeting. “An artificial cap ignores the true impact of new residential development on school facilities and while certainly beneficial to private developers, it compromises our ability to provide needed capacity and shifts most of the funding burden to our existing shared taxpayers.”

McLean also showed up at a council meeting last year to oppose the council’s vote to limit Federal Way’s fee hike.

City staff set the amount of its caps based on the highest requests in past years (minus the $20,000 request), Bonsteel said. She said the fees would be reviewed each year. School districts submit their fee requests each year to the city. Kent had never denied a fee until turning down Federal Way last year.

Council President Bill Boyce and Higgins each said they want discussion between schools and the community to determine a better system for impact fees.

“I’m open to more dialogue to try to fix this from a grassroots perspective and not putting a Band-Aid on it,” Boyce said.

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