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Douglas school district must pay rebate

Cory Fisher

Although a recent court ruling will require the Douglas County School District to pay back more than $1.5 million collected in residential construction fees, school district officials say that facility upgrades at the county’s lake schools still remain a priority.

“Things will be tight for awhile,” said board member Don Forrester. “But there is still money to do things.”

The Douglas County School District took a major blow last December when the Nevada Supreme Court ruled, on appeal, that Fair Share Cost fees collected from building permitees to aid in school facilities costs were unlawful.

“The fee was intended to target people who were causing the growth – to get people who were putting in subdivisions to pay,” said DCSD Superintendent Pendery Clark. “Otherwise, with bonds, everybody shoulders the cost of growth.”

Nonetheless, Clark said the setback will not change the district’s goal to prioritize facility needs among older schools, including those at the lake.

“It’s time to direct our attention to our older facilities,” she said. “Now it just means our capital improvement fund will need to be used very carefully, instead of counting on Fair Share Cost fees.”

The fee of $1,400 per dwelling unit has been collected since 1993, and now totals over $1.5 million. Judge David Gamble has since ordered a full refund of the fees – plus interest – to permitees.

“Some of the big builders are happier than hell,” said Forrester. “Fortunately we set that money aside because we thought it might be contested in court. But a lot of it could have been used for school expansion.”

In addition, Gamble also ordered the reimbursement of the plaintiffs’ court fees and other expenses, totaling $49,485. The county and the school district have agreed to split that amount. The plaintiffs include the Douglas County Contractors Association and two large development companies.

The school board voted to accept the judgment Tuesday, and approved the transfer of $25,000 from the district’s 1996-97 general fund contingency account to cover court costs.

Fair Share Cost fees were initially implemented because money from a school bond passed in 1992 went almost entirely into the construction of Pinon Hills and Minden Elementary schools, said Forrester, who added that the district may try for another bond in 1999.

“Developers must still pay $1,000 in state-authorized impact fees per housing unit,” said Forrester. “But just to break even, we would need $5,400 per student. It costs us $11,000 every time a new kid comes into the district.”

Nonetheless, Forrester said a lake facilities committee made up of parents, community members, teachers and other district employees have identified the need for a new library at George Whittell High School, more classrooms at Zephyr Cove Elementary School and an improved music room at Kingsbury Middle School. “The new library appears to be the highest priority and most likely improvement,” said Forrester. “But we also need to look ahead – Douglas High School will probably be near capacity by 2000.”


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