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It's not the developer who will pay

November 26, 2006|by Debi Turpin

I will start this letter with a story of two women. Both grew up in Washington County, graduated from Washington County high schools, went to college, returned home to Washington County, got jobs, married and each had a child. Now those children are just about ready to enter kindergarten, and the two families decide it's time to move their families out of the apartments they have been living in, and into houses.

They both find homes in the same school district, one in an existing subdivision, the other in a new subdivision. Both families register their child to start kindergarten - the only difference being, the family in the new home will be paying over the course of their mortgage, a minimum of $45,400 for the privilege of sending their children to school, while the other family will not.

This scenario will play itself out again and again if the Washington County Board of Education adopts its draft developer-funded school construction projects and proposed mitigation plan, and the Board of County Commissioners abides by that plan. For in truth, it is not the developer who will pay these fees, it is the new homebuyer who will pay, whether that buyer is a life-long county resident or a family moving into the area.

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It is a fact that a percentage of new houses produce children. However it is also a fact that families with children move into existing housing, both with the same effect on school enrollment numbers, yet the impact of existing housing is not taken into consideration whenever we hear that our schools are over capacity.

We also forget to include the babies delivered at Washington County Hospital every year. The truth is, there is no way to tax the families that move into existing houses, or every new baby that is born. There is, however, a way to tax the family that moves into a new home.

When buying a new home, one of the first things a family considers are the schools its children will attend, and it is for this reason that the building industry understands that an exceptional educational system is important for our county.

We understand that educating a child is expensive. We understand that many of the schools in our county have suffered from years of neglect due to budgetary shortfalls.

However, the new homebuyer should not be expected to make-up those budgetary shortfalls, which will happen when the money collected from the new home buyer is used to address capacity issues releasing the funding that would be spent on capacity to be used in other areas.

When the excise tax was raised to its current rate of $13,500 per single-family unit, members of our Association were part of the discussion prior to its adoption. While we do not support any fee or tax that adds to the cost of housing, we understood that the county was attempting to be proactive in collecting funds to address school capacity issues at a time when the housing market was booming. We determined that while the tax was high, if it allowed the industry to continue providing new homes to potential buyers, we would not take a position against it. Now we are being told that amount could more than triple, and this we will not support.

I attended the joint meeting of the Board of Education and the Board of County Commissioner on Tuesday, Oct. 31, where I heard at least one member of the Board of Education question why the BOE was even being asked to draft this policy.

I can answer that question, having attended the public hearing held when the revisions were made to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance to include a developer mitigation plan. Those testifying at the hearing asked for, and in some cases demanded, the right to have not only input to, but final say on, any developer mitigation plan.

As one Board of Education member stated at the joint meeting recently, the Board of Education should continue to do what it does best, determine what is needed to educate our children. It should provide this information to the Board of County Commissioners and it should then be the job of county staff to utilize that information when negotiating with developers, with the final decision being made by the members of the Board of County Commissioners as it is currently.

Homeownership is the American dream, and the Home Builders Association of Washington County believes that homeownership can, and should, be within the reach of every American family wishing to purchase a new home.

Debi Turpin Executive Director Home Builders Association of Washington County

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