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Impact fees for Franklin schools questioned

Jan. 14, 2014

Franklin — The Franklin School District was surprised when it received a bill for about $100,000 in impact fees after beginning the construction of two new facilities.

The facilities — additions to Franklin High School — were approved by district voters on Nov. 6, 2012; the new academic space and auditorium will cost about $34 million to build.

But impact fees charged by the city were not considered by the district when it determined the project's price tag.

"When those fees were introduced a number of years ago, it was my understanding that public schools were exempt from them," Franklin Schools Superintendent Steve Patz said.

Impact fees, which were designed to ensure new development pays its fair share of the cost of the off-site infrastructure that serves it, were first implemented in 1995.

The ordinance that established the fees faced several revisions throughout the years, but an exemption for public schools was never included.

As the ordinance is currently written, "'any new development' applies to businesses and residential properties," said Mark Luberda, director of administration for the city of Franklin.

The Common Council reviewed a proposal Tuesday that would amend the municipal code to exempt public schools from the impact fees, but uncertainty about the drafted ordinance led members to table the item until the next meeting.

Unanswered questions

School Board member Linda Witkowski, who attended the Common Council meeting solely as a concerned resident, argued that the high school's impact fees were "clearly an issue of double taxation."

"You're just charging the district for costs that aren't real," Witkowski said. "Putting up a school district building does not add to the burden of providing some services. Why do we need to pay for it twice?"

Mayor Tom Taylor, along with several aldermen, agreed that public schools should be exempt from the fees.

Others, including resident Raymond Ritter, expressed concerns about how an exemption for schools would affect the community.

"You can make the impact fees go away ... but you can't make the impact go away," said Ritter, who previously served on two of the city's impact fee task forces. "Somebody will have to pay; it's just a question as to who has to pay.

"This is just a way to push some of the impact on the Franklin School District projects off on people in the Oak Creek/Franklin and Whitnall School (District) portions of the city."

Luberda disagreed with Ritter's conclusions.

Although the Franklin School District has already paid the impact fees, the ordinance would retroactively refund the payment, Luberda said.

After discussing the ordinance for nearly an hour, the council voted to table the item until its Jan. 21 meeting, when additional information regarding the impact fees could be provided.

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