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School board discusses town, county fee waiver plan

Addressing the Archuleta County School District 50 Joint Board of Education at its Tuesday meeting, Archuleta County Administrator Greg Schulte and Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem explained why the town and county had proceeded with cutting impact fees without consulting the district about their intentions.

“I need to apologize to the board,” Mitchem said, “for not coming to you sooner. In our zeal to provide economic incentives, we neglected to inform the board and didn’t come to you sooner.

“I apologize to you and would hope that you would join us in making a positive impact on our community.”

Mitchem was referring to the fact the town had elected to completely waive impact fees for the remainder of 2009 and to waive 50 percent of the fees for all of 2010. What concerned the district was that a portion of those impact fees had been designated for the district and, with the town no longer collecting impact fees, no mechanism remained for collecting fees due to the district.

Mitchem, however, was clear that the town was committed to collecting fees for the district. “We believe this (the fee waivers) will save jobs and increase construction,” he said. “We believe that it’s in the best interest of the town and county. If you elect not to join us, we will continue to collect impact fees for the school.”

Board member Linda Lattin appeared to have not been so upset with the waiver of fees (which provide nominal revenues to the district), but with how the town and county proceeded with plans for the waivers. “They’ve put us in a position to be the bad guy,” she said, “whether we do or don’t (accept the waivers).”

“We want to maintain a good relationship with the school district,” Mitchem responded. “It was not our intent to put the school district in the box.”

Lattin asked Schulte, “We had that fee (school impact fee) built into the Land Use Code in 2000 — what happened to that?”

Schulte responded that he had not been aware of a school impact fee as part of the county’s land use code.

“I’d like to know when the school’s impact fee got dropped by the county,” Lattin said.

For his part, Schulte said he would look into the matter.

However, Schulte defended the county’s position on the current economic development plan, saying, “As the budget officer for the county, I had to take a long, hard look at this. If we can provide incentive for people to stay, we’re willing to give up part of our sales tax to provide incentive to stay.”

Schulte’s point was that the district stood to lose a lot more with residents (and children) leaving the county than with a loss of impact fees. In fact, while town impact fees collected for the district account for annual revenues of a few thousand dollars (in the best of times), each student represents almost $8,000 per student in state funding.

It was a point reiterated by Mitchem, who said, “This is all about jobs. The town and county are willing to take aggressive action to make that happen. Jobs means more students for the district.”

Board President Matt Aragon appeared prepared to support Mitchem and Schulte, saying, “Working in the building industry, I’ve seen quite a bit of activity as a result of incentives.”

District Superintendent Mark DeVoti also seemed prepared to support the town and county’s plan, saying, “We’re all here to support a strong and viable community.”

DeVoti did make it clear that the matter had been noticed as a discussion item and there would not be a vote on the matter at the meeting.

Mitchem said that the town would be considering further economic development incentives at council’s mid-month meeting (today at 1 p.m. in council chambers at Town Hall). “Council will consider implementing a broader plan for new and existing businesses,” he said. “A fee abatement and a sales tax rebate is just the first in a series that council will consider.”

For the county’s part, Schulte told the school board that the Board of County Commissioners was prepared to provide the district with further funds from the Secure Rural Schools program. Schulte said the board would hold a formal election for the funds at its September 1 meeting. According to the Archuleta County finance director, with the formal election, funding would amount to, “Somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000.”

Before adjourning, the board thanked the Pagosa Springs Elementary School for keeping school supply costs below $10 per student. “In these hard economic times, I think that’s great,” said board member Joanne Irons.

The board also recognized Operation Helping Hand for its efforts to raise money to help low-income families with the purchase of school supplies. The board also recognized Citizens Bank President Dan Aupperle for purchasing $500 in school supplies for donation to the elementary and intermediate schools.

The school board meets again at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8, in the Pagosa Springs Junior High School library. At that time, the district should vote on whether or not it will participate in the town and county’s fee waiver program.

jim@pagosasun.com