The Clark County Council decided to slow down on approving a funding plan for making up a $12.3 million shortfall on projects that would allow removal of roughly 2,100 acres of land from a designation preventing development, postponing a decision for several weeks.
Council did not vote during their May 7 meeting on a funding package that could potentially see tax increases across the county in order to make up the money needed to fund transportation improvements in the area around the Interstate 5/179th Street interchange. The improvements would need to be “reasonably funded” before the removal of an urban holding designation on land that was primarily residential land, part of a broader “Discovery Corridor” project to develop on land near the interstate.
Instead, county staff was directed to provide a better framework for how the funding would work. Councilor Temple Lentz expressed frustration over the process where what was on the table seemed to change regularly.
“I really feel like every time I get a new packet there is dramatically different information, and every time we have a council time meeting when we talk about this,” Lentz remarked. “Something we thought was the case the week before is not the case now.”
Lentz brought up recent concerns from officials in Ridgefield regarding school impact fees, something she said was a new addition to the conversation of the project. The fees are leveled at developers in order to mitigate impacts that development would have on services such as schools and transportation infrastructure. School impact fees in the county are at $6,530 per single-family residence, whereas within Ridgefield city limits those fees are at $8,883.
The Ridgefield School District, which receives funds from school impact fees, was one of three government districts who signed a May 6 letter asking the Clark County Council to consider raising their own fees to meet school district levels, alongside the city of Ridgefield and the Port of Ridgefield.
The letter reasoned that an increase of school impact fees to Ridgefield’s rate in city limits would lead to more than $11.3 million in funding for the district, assuming a new student for each of the projected 4,815 new residences anticipated in the urban holding area.
Currently, the school district is dealing with growing pains even without the potential of thousands of more students. Ridgefield Mayor Don Stose, there representing Citizens for Ridgefield Schools, brought up that all of the district’s five schools were currently at or above building capacity. The intermediate and middle school that opened this school year were already at capacity, he said, and the district had already placed an order for portables on the shared campus of those facilities.
Councilor Gary Medvigy brought up that though Ridgefield was the first school district to “raise their hand” in the process, two other districts would be impacted by development in the urban holding area — Battle Ground Public Schools and Vancouver Public Schools.
Clark County Community Planning Director Oliver Orjiako said there was a potential to increase the school impact fees in the county when updates to districts’ capital facilities plans would go before the county planning commission in July.
“I will be on your backs bringing forth a recommendation that you consider increasing those fees,” Ridgefield City Councilor Lee Wells said during testimony.
Who will pay and how much
Outside of worries about what impacts growth would have on local schools, the funding plan itself drew worry from individuals both for and against removing urban holding. Of the seven scenarios presented to council, levy rates on the county’s general fund and road fund could be raised to the maximum allowable in a year, which for Clark County could mean close to $31 more annually in property taxes on a median-priced home in the county.
What wouldn’t be raised on taxpayers countywide would be paid through the county taking out bonds, which would be paid off through costs on developers, according to information from staff. The county was looking at two methods to pay back bonds — either with developer surcharges on development currently in urban holding or an additional fee on an existing Mt. Vista Transportation Impact Fee (TIF) overlay which includes a broader area of roughly 8,300 acres north of 119th Street in Vancouver’s urban growth area.
Those fees ranged anywhere from $16 to $167 per average daily trip (ADT) generated by a development for the surcharge, while an additional TIF could range from $7 to $75 per ADT.
Medvigy reiterated his stance against taxing the whole county with a fund rate increase for improvements in one specific area.
“I want (staff) to focus on a no-tax option,” Medvigy remarked. “That’s just the only fair way to do this.”
David McDonald, a lawyer who announced that, as a Democrat, he generally was in favor for the use of taxes to fund “reasonable” government procedures and programs, pointed to instances where the council had turned down what he felt fit that definition, namely their decision in September to vote down a proposed $5-per-parcel fee to fund the Clark Conservation District.
“We had literally 1,000 people supporting it from across the county,” McDonald said, referring to public comment on the matter. He took issue with council’s lack of support on that tax while they now were contemplating ones “to fund four developments of homes and a little retail in an area that was supposed to be the economic engine that we’ve been waiting for.”
County Councilor Julie Olson mentioned how though most of the focus of testimony was on the residential developments planned for what was under urban holding, there were complementary parcels outside of the designation with commercial, light industrial and business park zoning.
“I want to make sure … that everybody has a picture, the whole picture of what this (Discovery Corridor) project means, and it’s not just the residential pieces that are in urban holding right now,” Olson said.
Sue Marshall, president of Friends of Clark County, asked for a delay of lifting urban holding “until there is a firmer plan of what is going to be proposed for the entire urban holding area, and the public has an opportunity to understand what the cost will be to them, and what the proposed economic benefits will be.”
Marshall said she believed the public hasn’t been able to educate themselves enough on what was proposed, noting that supporting documents for the hearing were not posted until the day before the hearing.
Susan Rasmussen, of Clark County Citizens United, spoke about the burden overlays have on landowners who wish to develop their properties. While she argued for the removal of the overlays, which were intended to be a temporary designation, she brought into question the share of contributions into the improvement projects which the county was putting in significantly more than the developers, according to a presentation at the hearing.
“When a landowner wants to build on his piece of property, they foot the entire bill. They don’t get the benefit of county shares,” Rasmussen said. “It’s time that this urban holding be lifted, but there needs to be a better way to pay for it.”
Council ultimately directed county staff to have a clearer framework ready for a work session in three weeks from the meeting, with another hearing likely the week after the workshop. At last week’s hearing, Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee said that although there was no compelling reason to make a decision that night, requirements through the state Growth Management Act regarding having the transportation infrastructure in place to lift the holding would need to be addressed soon.
Clark County Public Works Director Ahmad Qayoumi mentioned that given the timeframe for concurrency requirements on development the county had less than a year to address the funding of transportation improvements before they could potentially be found in noncompliance with the Growth Management Act.