By Angie Mayes
Special to Mt. Juliet News
Wilson County Commissioner Lauren Breeze brought up educational impact fees to the Wilson County Education Committee on Thursday night at its meeting.
An educational impact fee is imposed on new buildings built to help pay for increased educational costs due to the impacts new residents make on the county’s school system.
She referenced an attempt Williamson County made to put educational impact fees into place and the lawsuit from builders that ensued. The suit ended last week with the court offering a summary judgement that said Williamson County had the right to impose the fees on new structures.
“As I understand it, [Williamson County] is going to wait, because it could potentially go to appeal,” she said. “But that opens the door to the idea of educational impact fees, which would, if we looked at this for Wilson County, allow growth to pay for growth.”
She said Williamson County hired an external firm to do a study on the issue. With the study, it allowed the county to set up the fee structure scale.
The money would allow Wilson County to pay for expenses it incurs due to growth-based new building. The school board approved a capital outlay plan for future projects of $678 million, according to Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall.
“This would be a revenue stream, so we could start doing some of that work,” she said. “And making sure we would stay on top of the population growth and be proactive, rather than reactive. I would like to be able to at least take a look at what our options are.”
Breeze said there are questions that need to be answered before the county attempts to impose an educational impact fee.
“We need to know whether Williamson County has an [adequate facilities tax], or just an educational impact fee,” she said. “We need to look at whether we can have an [adequate facilities tax] and an educational impact fee. If we could, then you could use the [adequate facilities tax] to fund other projects like fire stations, jails, court buildings and so on. The educational impact fee would just pay for schools.”
Commissioner Annette Stafford said, “It sounds great, but anytime you’re talking about adding an additional tax, you’re barking up the wrong tree. You can definitely throw it out there, and we can all talk about it, but the adequate facilities tax was supposed to be for part of that. When you start talking about adding another tax to the Wilson County people, you’ll have a different breed of folks coming out.”
Breeze said she understood, but the county needs to find a way to pay for growth.
“This would be a way,” she said. “It would be a one-time fee. It would be exactly like [the adequate facilities tax] when you build a new home, but it would be specifically for schools and deal with the school growth. We need to do some more study, but I’d at least like to investigate the idea.”
Stafford referred to the “drama and things we had with the [adequate facilities tax]. You don’t know the teeth we had to pull. It took a long time.”
Commissioner Bobby Franklin said Williamson County was raising impact fees “from the hot areas and devoting it to the whole school system. The law in Tennessee has always, in reference to adequate facilities taxes and impact fees, required that the impact fee be close to the actual impact. In other words, you can’t take impact fees out of Mt. Juliet and build a school in Watertown or Lebanon.”