The number of students in Williamson County Schools is expected to more than double during the next 20 years, according to a consultant study of the growth and potentially how to pay for it.
Naturally the need for new schools will increase too. The three new Nolensville schools, the two in early stages of construction or active planning, and plans for three more in the next few years, attest to that.
County Commissioner Todd Kaestner estimated the cost of new schools over the next two decades at nearly a billion dollars.
In the past, the county paid for schools by borrowing money through bond issues. In the past six years, the county budgeted more than $96 million for land and construction for schools. But with interest payments alone creeping into the millions, county officials agree that depending on borrowing is an unsustainable model, especially if it wants to maintain a Triple A credit rating.
Thus the idea for an Educational Impact Fee, which taxes new home construction in proportion to the number of students added for each new home.
Proposed fees could bring in up to $180 million over the next six years, if development continues at current rates.
Figuring out a fee system started last year with a county task force that commissioned a study by TischlerBise. That study was presented last month and discussion of how to move forward continues.
County officials, developers and members of the public met at a series discussions this week to hear the latest and move the issue a little closer to going before the County Commission for a vote.
Carson Bise, of TischlerBise, presented two options for implementing the fee last month.
Both would charge a fee to the developer of each new home in the county. The first option places up a $10,148 set fee on single-family homes and $5,291 on multi-family homes. The second option sets a variable rate that increases with square footage, under the assumption that the larger the home, i.e. more bedrooms, the more school-age children will live there during the lifespan of the house. Houses less than 1,799 square feet would pay up to $3,711. Six tiers of fees would be levied, topping out at 3,400 square feet and above incurring up to a $13,566 fee. Homes built within Franklin Special School District would pay less because the district already has its own tax.
“The second option is more popular because it is better in terms of proportionality,” Bise said. “But also it benefits the community because it promotes housing equity and affordability because smaller houses have a lower price point and are paying a lesser fee because they are creating less demand.”
Earlier in the afternoon on Wednesday the county Budget Committee met and ultimately gave its recommendation that the county take option one; however, the matter is months, at least, away from being voted on by the county.
Mayor Rogers Anderson said the first option was preferred for simplicity, despite the more equitably distributed burden of the second option. The fee, he said, needs to be re-evaluated every three years anyway.
Bise said that in his experience he had never seen a county start with option two; that prudence seems to dictate starting simply.
Bise’s study found that each new Williamson county home adds a certain average number of students to the school system- about .55 students added per every single family home and .299 for every multi-family home. It calculated the cost per student for new school construction, found by analyzing the costs of the most recently built schools, at $15,807 per K-8 student and $24,103.18 for 9-12. The fee per new home then was set by averaging the two and multiplying it by the number of students added per house.
Certain rules go along with impact fees. They need to be spent within six years of collection. They need to show a connection between where the money is coming from and the need for the money- new housing creates the need for new schools, therefore new housing can be taxed. And they can only be spent strictly on land and construction- not operational costs.
“I think that most people understand and know we are trying to figure out a way that new growth, new folks moving in, will share the burden, and that it is not put on the existing residents,” Anderson said.”God knows we cannot keep raising property taxes.”
Ultimately, residential developers will pay the tax, which will be passed on to homebuyers, Bise said.
“This isn’t a question of are we going to fund education,” Kaestner said. “The only question is how are we going to do it, who are we going to tax? Are we going to lay it on homeowners individually? Developers may hate me, but we are selling schools. That is what brings people here. The burden is created. My rejoinder to homebuilders who might rather have us get it somewhere else is, ‘Where are we supposed to get the money?’”
Khris Pascarella, a residential developer and homebuilder with Pearl Street Partners, spoke and rebutted Kaestner.
“We all have a lot of interests, we all want to maintain the quality of the school system, and we all benefit from it through our children or through our business, with people wanting to live here,” he said. “But as a residential developer, we feel like we are always targeted to share all of the burden for costs related to growth. I would argue that there is no suggestion that new business growth, a new office development for instance, would bear any of the burden. If an office developer builds a 200,000 square foot office that is going to employ several thousand people, many of those will be new to here and are going to buy new or used homes. Those jobs are bringing the families, who are bringing the children, who are going to the schools. And I would offer a suggestion that they should shoulder some of the burden, since they are participating in growth. We tend to give them tax breaks, and I understand that it is done to attract businesses, but I would argue that they should shoulder some of the burden as well.”
By the numbers- Fee Options 1 and 2
Single-family home: $10,148
Multi-family home: $5,291
Single-family home: $4,026
Multi-family home: $1,631
1,799 square feet or less: $3,711
1,800 to 2,199 square feet: $6,551
2,200 to 2,599 square feet: $8,778
2,600 to 2,999 square feet: $10,639
3,000 to 3,399 square feet: $12,182
3,400 square feet or more: $13,566
1,799 square feet or less: $1,687
1,800 to 2,199 square feet: $2,820
2,200 to 2,599 square feet: $3,688
2,600 to 2,999 square feet: $4,411
3,000 to 3,399 square feet: $4,989
3,400 square feet or more: $5,520