After deliberation about how developers should pay for parks, Teton County commissioners approved a change to the way they pay fees to provide public services Tuesday, and an increase in the amount given to the school district.

Teton County School District No. 1 asked the Teton County Board of County Commissioners to update the county regulation governing exactions. Developers pay exactions to the county as either plots of land or fees when new developments are created or parcels are subdivided. They are collected to ensure new development provides land for parks and schools in its vicinity so such services are centrally located.

With developable land at a premium, the potential for large subdivisions, which would bestow suitable land on the county in one shot, has decreased. The minimum parcel that can be donated is 1 acre, so developers are generally paying fees in lieu.

“As we move into seeing less large subdivisions in the county,” Senior Long-range Planner Kristi Malone told the board, “we want to reflect that by locating services in more complete neighborhoods.”

0.01 acres to the schools

The former language said developers paid a fee based on the market value of land in the vicinity of their project, but the term “vicinity” isn’t well defined. The district’s application changed the fee calculation to be determined by the “median, per-acre market land value (not including improvements) most recently established by the Teton County Assessor for private land in Teton County.” That figure would be updated annually.

Two aspects of the application were of keen interest to commissioners, the first being a shift in the disbursement ratio between parks and schools. The application didn’t seek to change the amount developers are required to pay, the equivalent of 0.03 acres per new lot created.

Rather, it asked that in splitting the parks and schools exactions, 0.02 acres per lot go to parks creation and 0.01 to schools. In the past, Malone said, planning staff disbursed 80% of the fees to the Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation Department and 20% to the school district.

That the new split increases the amount given to the school district was not lost on commissioners.

“I’m comfortable with the need for more clarity,” Commissioner Luther Propst said. “I’m concerned about reducing the revenue we generate for our parks.”

One of his colleagues went even further.

“I feel the 0.03 for both schools and parks is low,” Commissioner Mark Newcomb said. “I would call for it to be higher if that was up to me.”

OPS Strategies owner Alex Norton, who represented the school district, said the split was based on Parks and Rec goals for per capita acres of parks in Teton County and the amount of land the school district will need in the future to accommodate population growth.

7-year sunset

Commissioners also took issue with the sunset clause written into the new rules. The old land development regulations did not have a sunset written into them, meaning the school district or Parks and Rec could ostensibly keep exaction fees in perpetuity without using them.

The rules approved Tuesday instate a seven-year sunset, after which developers can request unused fees. An email from Parks and Rec Director Steve Ashworth that was included with the school district’s application cited concerns that parks and schools are often long-running capital projects that may require more than seven years to jump through planning and regulatory hoops.

“If the parks director is uncomfortable with a seven-year sunset, I’d like to amend it to a 10-year sunset,” Newcomb said. “It can take a long time to find scarce, expensive land.”

Newcomb’s colleagues, however, were swayed by arguments regarding the legal strength of the sunset clause. Deputy County Attorney John Graham told the board that not spending the money in a seven-year period could give the impression “you didn’t need it” and that the sunset made the law stronger.

For the school district’s part, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Jeff Daugherty said the district has enough projects that he didn’t anticipate it would run afoul of a seven-year sunset and leave money on the table. The legal defensibility argument won the day, and the commission unanimously approved the change without any amendments, 4-0 with Vice Chairman Greg Epstein absent.

More discussion expected

Though commissioners generally supported the change, they debated whether they needed a wholesale change of mitigating development. The exaction or fee system creates a level of bureaucracy that could be avoided, they said, and the change in ratio presented questions about how the county wanted to create open space as density increases.

Daugherty, who will inevitably be a part of any process that changes the creation of open space or school development, said the change approved Tuesday was not the end of the discussion.

“This amendment is not a destination,” he said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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