A School District 308 administrator recently issued a memo questioning an Oswego Village Board decision to cut impact fees for new townhomes, apartments and condos by 45 percent for all taxing bodies.
The village – like most other area municipalities – has charged impact fees to developers of new residential subdivisions over the years to help the village and other local governmental agencies to provide public services to the new developments.
Until this past month, the village charged $11,650 per residence, which included $4,429.25 per residence that the village collected on behalf of the school district. But under the new fee structure adopted by the village board last month, the total amount of impact fees per residence was reduced to $6,407.50. Of that amount, the school district will receive $2,436.09 per residence in impact fees, a reduction of $1,993.16.
The memo, written by Asif Dada, assistant superintendent for business services and operations, described the causes behind the village’s vote and the district’s take on the issue.
“The impositions of development impact fees are a function of the village, not the school district. They have the authority to reduce or waive its development impact fees in the exercise of its discretion irrespective of the views of SD308. The district is currently facing a lack of state funding, projected deficits, and future financial uncertainties. However, due to decreased impact fees from these potential developments, our challenges may further grow from increased enrollment and education cost,” Dada wrote.
Two developments, Ashcroft Walk, featuring 210 townhome units across from the Oswego Fire Protection District Station No. 1 on Woolley Road, and Seasons of Southbury, with 162 townhome units west of Southbury Elementary School, recently went before the village board, asking for a reduction in impact fees of 47 to 58 percent. At its Aug. 15 meeting, the board approved a 45 percent reduction in the fees.
School board member Brent Lightfoot spoke at the village’s Aug. 15 meeting, asking the village to delay a vote on impact fees until the school board had a chance to discuss the issue and had more information on the state’s budget proceedings. Lightfoot said that due to the timing of when the school board was informed of the issue and when their meeting was scheduled, the board was unable to discuss impact fees until an Aug. 21 meeting. Lightfoot also emphasized the amount of debt that faces the district: more than half a billion dollars, accrued from the late 1990s to 2008 when the district’s population boomed.
“The taxpayers of the district cannot [bear] the entire cost of new development,” Lightfoot said, explaining that at that level of debt, the district legally cannot borrow much more money.
A separate statement issued by School District 308 said that the district wanted the process to be “collaborative,” as the two developments are expected to add more than 100 students to the district. According to the statement, the lower impact fees will result in a loss of $741,363 to the district.
Village Administrator Daniel DiSanto said the village’s research, combined with the potentially significant delay of waiting on information from the state and the approaching end of construction season, prompted the village board’s vote last month.
“We want to see that growth, and we didn’t want to wait months or years for the state to have an answer for the school district,” he said. “For the sake of continuing this discussion and moving forward to bring growth to town, they decided to approve the fee reduction.”
DiSanto added that he had informed district administrators in early July that the measure would be taken up by the board, and met with the administrators in early August to discuss the issue.
The debate over impact fees began in 2014 when the village, School District 308, Oswego Public Library District, Oswegoland Park District and Oswego Fire Protection District hired an outside consulting firm to examine and recommend changes to the development impact fees that the village was then imposing. The study resulted in a more streamlined fee for single-family homes, adopted on Nov. 3, 2015.
In December 2015, the village got a request for a follow-up study, having been told that the first did not take into account the effect on multi-family homes. According to the village’s research, multi-family homes produce almost half of the number of residents and half the number of vehicle trips as single-family homes. The research also found that the population and transportation impact of a multi-family unit is almost 50 percent less than that of a single-family unit.
This reduction would mean a total drop in impact fees from $11,650 to $6,407.50 – a difference of more than $5,000. Communities similar in size and demographics to Oswego, including towns whose students attend District 308 schools, charge a wide range of impact fees per townhome unit, all considerably less than what Oswego asks under the former and current amounts.
Though they were encouraged to communicate with those communities, the district statement reported that, as of the time it was written, no discussions had been had with the communities that feed into District 308 on changing impact fees.
Village trustee Karin McCarthy-Lange spoke before the District 308 board at the Aug. 21 meeting to discuss the village’s decision.
“I know you are struggling financially, and I know the issues with the state – I’ve been following it all,” she said. “We don’t take this decision lightly. We believe that we are still providing SD308 with sufficient funds for planned growth.”
During the discussion, members of the school board called for an increased level of communication between School District 308 administration and the village for future issues.
The school board will hold the first of two planned public forums from 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 25 in the Thompson Junior High School cafeteria.