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Kuna school district officials are working on a novel — and promising — proposal that would allow school districts in Idaho to collect impact fees.

As reported this month by the Kuna Melba News, Kuna school district officials are crafting a resolution that would make a relatively simple change in a definition in Idaho law.

An impact fee is a one-time fee charged to a developer who is building a house or a commercial building. The fee is paid at the time of development and is intended to offset the costs of new amenities necessitated by growth.

Currently, state law asserts that impact fees may go to benefit “public facilities,” including water supply production, wastewater collection, roads, flood control, parks, law enforcement and more — but excludes public school facilities.

That’s why you see in Idaho impact fees for such things as new police stations or fire stations, roads and parks, but when it comes to building a new school building, districts must ask voters to approve — with a two-thirds supermajority — multimillion-dollar bonds. Since 1998, Idaho districts have passed 127 bond measures totaling roughly $2 billion.

Under the proposal from Kuna, the words “public school facilities” would be added to the legal definition of “public facilities” in Idaho, making school districts eligible to collect impact fees.

Officials are planning to take the resolution to the Idaho School Boards Association convention in November. If passed there, it would then be crafted into a bill, which the Legislature would have to pass into law.

We encourage members of the School Boards Association to approve it, and we encourage one of our local legislators to sponsor this legislation, particularly someone who represents a fast-growing school district, such as Meridian or Kuna.

If passed, it would go a long way toward making growth pay for itself, which it currently does not in Idaho when it comes to building new school buildings.

For example, if a developer were to build, say, 600 houses in Kuna, and if there were an average of one elementary-age child per household, that would result in 600 new students coming into the Kuna school district, resulting in the need to build a new 600-student elementary school. Under current conditions, the only way the school district can build that new school is to ask everyone in the school district to approve a bond to pay for that new school.

With a high threshold of two-thirds supermajority to pass a bond, many of these bonds fail, but the need for that new school still exists. At that point, we’re just punishing the students, who have to study in hallways, repurposed closets and portable classroom buildings.

If the bond passes, taxpayers have to pay back not only the principal but the interest, which is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Collecting impact fees to alleviate the need to make interest payments on construction makes much more fiscal sense.

We’re not talking about the operation of that school, which we agree, everyone must shoulder the expense of educating our children. We’re talking here about the construction of a new building that otherwise would not be required had that 600-house subdivision not been built.

As the Idaho Press reported earlier this month, Idaho’s property tax burden shifted significantly to residential property owners in 2018, who are now paying their biggest share of statewide property taxes since 2008.

We must do something to alleviate the growing property tax burden off homeowners. Implementing an impact fee for school districts is one good way to do that.

With Idaho and the Treasure Valley growing at among the highest rates in the country, we don’t think adding impact fees would be a huge deterrent to that growth. After all, even with the current impact fees we have, we haven’t seen any slowdown whatsoever. Even if an added impact fee were to slow down the growth, would that necessarily be a bad thing if we’re not able to afford that fast growth?

But we recognize that impact fees are not a panacea, and we recognize that impact fees are passed down to the consumer through higher house prices, which does nothing to help the valley’s affordable housing problem. So we’re hopeful that other measures can be considered, as well. We’re also interested in seeing what happens with another proposal from the West Ada School District.

As reported in the Meridian Press, West Ada officials are once again bringing forward a proposal to have the state pay for half of school district bonds. Coupled with impact fees, this could be a huge benefit to all property taxpayers. Are there other solutions out there that we should be exploring?

We’ve already decided in this state that impact fees are allowable, and they are already being used all over the state for such things as parks, roads, police and fire services.

It’s way past time to add school buildings to that list.

Our editorials are based on the majority opinions of our editorial board. Not all opinions are unanimous. Members of the board are Publisher Matt Davison and community members Tami Dooley, John Jackson, Chase Johnson, Melissa Morales, Jane Suggs and Devon Van Essen. Editor Scott McIntosh is a nonvoting member.

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