The Teton County Planning Commission approved a Teton County School District No. 1 request to update how fees from developers are handled and, in the process, increase the amount the district receives.

In the request Assistant Superintendent of Operations Jeff Daugherty asked that land development regulations governing exactions paid when land is subdivided be split into separate sections: parks and schools. The county’s regulations have just one section describing exactions.

At its Monday meeting, the Planning Commission agreed with Daugherty’s entreaty. The commission doesn’t have the power to enact policy, but its approval sends the school district application to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners. The request can be viewed at JHNewsAndGuide.com.

More money for schools

Developers pay exactions to the county as either plots of land or fees when new developments are created or plots of land are subdivided. They are collected to ensure that new development includes land for parks and schools in its vicinity so such services are centrally located.

However, with developable land at a premium, the potential for large subdivisions, which would bestow suitable land on the county in one shot, has decreased.

“With the 2016 county-wide rural area rezone, density potential was shifted into town and the appropriate Complete Neighborhoods,” the staff report on the request reads, “reducing the ability for large multi-lot subdivisions to occur in most areas of the county.”

Since many new developments include just a few lots, developers are likely to pay a fee instead of giving land. The school district’s request aims to standardize that exchange by creating one system for assessing fees and allocating a set percentage of the fees for building parks and schools.

Current language says developers pay 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 would change 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.

The application doesn’t seek to change the amount developers are required to pay, the equivalent of 0.03 acres per new lot created. Rather, it asks that in splitting the parks and schools exactions, 0.02 acres per lot would go to parks creation and 0.01 to schools.

Exaction regulations do not specify a disbursement ratio, but the district’s request would give it more than the district has historically received. In an email included with the application, Teton County Treasurer Katie Smits told interim Planning Director Jo Ellen Charlton that the district receives 20% of disbursements.

In fiscal year 2018 the county collected $2,890.07 in exaction fees, with the district’s 20% equaling $578.01. Under the proposed rules, the district would have received $953.72.

Sunset concerns

One part of the proposed regulations raised eyebrows at the Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation Department.

Current exaction rules do not include a timeline in which funds must be used. In the school district’s application, it includes a sunset on both parks and schools fees of seven years. If the money is not spent in that time the owner of a lot that had paid exaction fees can request the money be refunded.

If the funds are earmarked for a specific purpose in the seven-year time frame, the sunset is extended for another three years.

Large projects require sizeable amounts of money and land, Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation Director Steve Ashworth wrote in an email to Charlton. Including a sunset clause would hamper agencies’ ability to save the money until an appropriate venture arises, he said.

“I would not be in favor of a sunset of the funds,” he wrote, “as it is often necessary to accumulate over many years to have a balance sufficient for a project.”

Planning Commissioner Karen Rockey brought up Ashworth’s concern during the Monday meeting. OPS Strategies owner Alex Norton, who represented the school district at the meeting, said he didn’t think the sunset clause should be a problem for Parks and Rec.

The way the exaction regulations are written, he said, Parks and Rec doesn’t have to use the funds solely for land acquisition or huge capital projects like new parks. The department could purchase new playground equipment with the money if it was approaching the sunset of a particular round of exaction fees.

Associate Planner Kristi Malone said she didn’t think a developer had so far asked for such a thing, but Planning Commissioner Glen Esnard said the past isn’t an indicator of the future.

“If it can be done, it will be done,” he said. “We should anticipate that it will happen.”

The proposal is scheduled to be heard by the Teton County Board of County Commissioners at its Nov. 5 meeting.

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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