An ongoing discussion on reducing school impact fees imposed on housing developers to remain competitive with neighboring communities with lower fees ended Wednesday night with the Lockport City Council approving fee reductions for the city as well as the school districts.
The 6-1 vote – with Catherine Perretta voting against the proposed resolution and ordinance – came after another lengthy discussion at a city council meeting. However, Wednesday night was the first time a representative from the school districts spoke at a meeting against the proposed 80 percent reduction of school impact fees on new homes.
Jim Petrakos abstained because he works with Homer 33C as an architect.
According to City Administrator Ben Benson’s memo attached to the resolution, the 80 percent reduction on school impact fees would translate to an almost $4,500 reduction for a four-bedroom home.
A 40 percent reduction on the city’s tap on and sewer fees as well as general impact fees would translate to a total $7,200 reduction for the same size home.
Christi Tyler, Assistant Superintendent of Business for Homer Community Consolidated School District 33C – speaking for all four Lockport school districts – requested that the city council instead consider a 40 percent reduction, matching the proposed reduction of the city’s fees, according to a video of the meeting.
“While we appreciate that the city’s trying to make total impact fees more competitive with neighboring communities to attract development, it is also important that school districts are prepared for those expenses and space that come with increased population,” Tyler said.
Tyler said that since 2005, Dist. 33C has collected about $1 million in land cash value and impact fees, but spent more than $1.7 million for additions and improvements to William J Butler grade school. In addition, she said, the school district might have to spend another $3.7 million for Butler in the next five years.
In the beginning of the meeting, Lockport Mayor Steven Streit outlined the process that had brought the city to recommending the reductions.
Streit said that he has resisted petitions from housing developers to reduce school impact fees for four years because the city had reduced its own tap on and sewer fees by 50 percent once previously. He added that he didn’t want to take money from the schools until he could find replacement revenues.
The reduction in the city’s fees – which the schools had decided not to match at that time – had increased houses built from a couple a year to 40 to 50, Streit said.
“So, then I could go back to places like Marcus Theatres and Panera Bread, which are now building, and I could tell them that we are not a dead community,” Streit said.
With the city having brought in more commercial development, which brings increased property tax revenue for the schools annually – such as about $295,000 from the Pannatoni corporate center – as opposed to one-time impact fees from new houses, Streit said now was the right time to make the reduction.
Streit added the reduction would actually be 56 percent and not 80 percent because the schools had only recently increased those fees by 24 percent to make up for not having raised the fees in the past several years.
Aldermen Darren Deskin and Jason VanderMeer said that with Lockport’s fees being the highest among its neighboring communities, and with no new subdivisions imminent, an 80 percent reduction was not unreasonable.
Streit, VanderMeer and Deskin also insisted that the ordinance could be revised in the future to increase fees in case of housing spurts.
Perretta said that – having a child in Dist. 33C’s Hadley Middle School – she knew schools already were crowded and that decreasing impact fees would reduce the amount of revenue the schools could use for future expansions.
Benson added that since the school district has a $50 million budget of which it received about $127,000 from impact fees in fiscal 2017 – according to communication with the superintendent’s office – the fee reduction would have a minimal impact.