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Residential developers need good local schools and good county services for their houses to sell and to make new residents happy. The county and the school district are both suffering from the long term emphasis on homebuilding in Indian Land that has led to a property tax base that does not expand its revenue as fast as it expands its need for services.
In the last few months, the county has begun asking developers to pick up part of the capital cost for emergency services and property owners to pick up the long term cost of maintaining roads and landscaping via developer agreements.
The school system has been included in this program, but only at the level of $500 per house, a pittance compared to the $30,000 per pupil average cost of building a new school.
Up front it might seem reasonable to ask developers to pick up half of the cost for additional schools, or $15,000 per house. This is, however, serious money, representing 4 percent of the price of a $375,000 home and will certainly be passed on to the homeowner. Questions such as who has to pay and how will it be guaranteed that the money will be spent to provide good local schools have to be answered.
Some of these questions have obvious answers; those using development agreements will have to pay, the guy building his own home on his family’s land will not. The development agreement is an appropriate tool to get the job done, but will have to be supplemented with an agreement between the county and the school district since the county will be negotiating with the developer and the school district will be spending the money.
The school district cannot agree to assign specific students to specific schools for a payment of money; such would be a violation of anti-discrimination laws.
There is no reason, however, that the school district cannot agree to follow its current policy of building new schools near where populations of students are in an effort to keep student commute times small.
There is no reason that an agreement between the developer and the county could not provide for a payment for the benefit of the school district in building new schools and a separate agreement between the school district and the county provide that the county will promptly pay the money to the school district where it should be held in a separate account and used to build new schools in accordance with a policy that will put the schools close to the students and keep student commute times small.
Note that this does not necessarily mean that new schools will go near developments. As developments build out, student demographics change. As the school district runs out of capacity and needs new schools, it will need to look at student demographics at the time and try to place its new schools in a way that keep student commute times small for everyone. A large portion of the money required to build the school should be available in the escrow account.
In this way the developers get what they really need, which is good nearby schools and the school district has a policy it can live with and a financial problem that it should be able to solve.
.R. Wilt is a Van Wyck resident.