Franklin — A motion to make the city's public schools exempt from impact fees failed last week, leaving school officials — and Mayor Tom Taylor — unpleasantly surprised.
The proposed ordinance would have amended city code to make public schools exempt from impact fees tied to development projects — an issue that was raised after construction began on two new facilities at Franklin High School.
The construction of a new academic space and an auditorium, a $34 million project, resulted in about $100,000 worth of impact fees being charged.
Impact fees were first implemented in 1995 to ensure new development pays its fair share of the cost of the off-site infrastructure that serves it.
"It is our belief that when the current ordinance was created there was no intention for this rule to be applied to the school district," Superintendent Steve Patz wrote in a Jan. 13 letter to the council. "The current ordinance states that any new development(s) applies to business and residential properties, to which the school district is identified as neither of these."
Alderman Doug Schmidt moved to approve the ordinance, but no one seconded the motion and it died without discussion.
"It was a little bit surprising that no one was prepared to second the motion," Schmidt said. "At the last meeting, I got the vibe that most of the aldermen were comfortable with the ordinance. I was a little baffled by it."
The Common Council earlier had consulted with Bill Mielke of Ruekert & Mielke, the contractor hired to conduct an Impact Fee Study in 2002. He concluded the proposed ordinance did abide by the letter of the law and that if the school district was exempt from impact fees, the cost would not be spread to other taxpayers.
The Common Council had asked the district to provide its contract with CG Schmidt Construction for the development project to see if impact fees were included in the planning process.
That contract was not brought before the council, Alderman Mark Dandrea said.
"I wanted to make sure that these calculations were not included in the original bid," Dandrea said, noting that he did not speak on behalf of the rest of the aldermen. "If there was a mistake (with the impact fees), I wanted to see it.
"But for us to be informed that the school district did not calculate this in its contract — it's hard to accept that reasoning, that logic. ... Rather than telling us half-way through construction, why didn't they come to us when they noticed a problem at the onset?"
Dandrea also said that just because the council could exempt the district from impact fees, does not mean there won't be an impact.
The occasional drug-searches and fire drills at schools require a presence from the police and fire departments and "to presume those services are all free" is not correct, he said.
Alderwoman Kristen Wilhelm said the ordinance "seemed like unequal distribution" for her constituents in the 3rd District, who were unable to vote for the Franklin School District referendums that approved the high school's project.
Having already paid the impact fees for the project, the school district would be taking back money that contributed to the entire Franklin community, she said.
"We asked for more information and it wasn't there," Wilhelm said. "I don't like making decisions without being well-informed ... and I didn't feel there was enough information to get the pulse of my constituents in that amount of time."
Tom Taylor, a vocal supporter of the ordinance, said he did not expect for the ordinance to be shut down so quickly.
"I was as surprised as anyone else in the room when no one seconded the motion," he said. "I think people just thought it was a done deal. … I have no understanding of what occurred there."
School Board President Janet Evans said she was "shocked" with the council's decision, and School Board Vice President Tim Nielson said he "left (the council meeting) very disappointed."
"I'm looking into whether that (ordinance) can return and go back into the agenda," the mayor has told the School Board.
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