MOJAVE — Mojave Unified School District officials will meet with California City officials to discuss possible means of reducing fees charged by both entities to developers to offset costs created by their developments, in the hopes that lower fees will help encourage homebuilding.
The school district charges developer impact fees to cover the costs of increased facilities and other infrastructure necessitated by additional students that may arrive with new development.
The state requires districts to adopt developer fees in order to receive some forms of state funding, officials said.
The fees must be justified through a study performed by outside consultants, and every two years the State Allocation Board sets the maximum that may be charged, reflecting inflation costs.
The school district’s current fees were approved in 2018 and stand at $3.79 per square foot for residential housing and 61 cents per square foot for commercial construction, the level allowed by the state.
Before making any changes to the district’s fees, Trustee Larry Adams suggested they work with California City officials to see whether their fees could also be reduced.
“If we’re in a position to help the builders build houses, then the city should try to get in that same position,” he said. “They should lower some of their fees, some of their building inspection fees, some of their water hookup fees at the same level that we’re willing to do it. It would help to give them an opportunity if we can get together and lower the overall process for the builders.”
Adams pointed out that a number of the fees imposed on builders are not controlled by either the city or the school district, but other entities, such as the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency.
The discussion was supported by developer D.J. Twohig, representing MyCalCity.org, who requested help in making building in Cal City more economically feasible.
While the discussion focused specifically on California City, the developer impact fees are charged across the school district, which also includes the unincorporated Kern County community of Mojave.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Keith Gainey provided some information tracking the total building permit fees on average in Cal City from 1994 to 2018, using data provided by Twohig. This showed an increase from $3,700 to $24,000, an average increase of 7.94% annually, or 575% increase over the 24-year span.
For comparison, Gainey calculated the cost of living increases over that same time span, using average teacher salaries in the state as a guideline. He found a 100% cost of living increase over the same years, an average of 2.78% per year.
In terms of developer fees from 1994 to 2018, the increase over the 24 years is an 120% increase.
“It’s a little higher than the (cost of living) increase, but it’s not the difference-maker. It’s keeping pace with cost of living,” he said.
There was some debate about how to calculate the impact in terms of additional students based on the number of new houses built. Gainey quoted a rule of thumb of 1.71 students per home, but trustees disputed if that adequately represented the demographics for Cal City.
“At some point you’re going to build homes, and those homes are supposed to have children in them, and at some point, we’ll have to have buildings,” Gainey said.
California City Middle School and Hacienda Elementary School are at capacity, and the district is looking at the need to add portable classroom buildings, which cost $250,000 each, he said.
For developer fees alone to pay for the costs of portables, they would need to be double the current rate, he said.
Twohig took note that the district has not relied on developer fees alone to pay for facilities, but has used voter-approved bonds to fund new construction.
“Developer impact fees are not the only option,” he said.
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