Jeff Seemans, a retired landscape architect from Milton, says Sussex County is leaving a lot of money on the table that could help fund school building projects in the eight county school districts.
During the public comment period at the Oct. 20 meeting, Seemans implored Sussex County Council to take a serious look at enacting a school impact fee similar to those in Kent and New Castle counties.
An established fee would be collected by the county for each new home built, with the money placed in a special fund for school district capital projects.
Currently, funding for school building projects comes from taxpayers when referendums are passed.
New Castle County has had a school impact fee since 1999 and Kent County since 2006.
During his research on the topic, Seemans said he was able to determine how much money was collected in one rapidly growing school district, Appoquinimink in New Castle County. He said, with a fee of $5,738 per new home, up to this past March, the county has collected $7.6 million and passed it on to the school district.
He said according to the Sussex County comprehensive plan, 9,543 residential building permits were issued from 2013 to June 2018. He said if the county established a $5,000 impact fee, they would have collected more than $45 million for county school districts. “You can multiply the housing units by any number and then swallow hard when you realize that not one dollar has been collected ever to help build new schools,” Seemans said. “The simple math combined with unprecedented residential growth make it an obvious choice for Sussex County to proceed with this legislation.”
He said school districts and parents will likely support the impact fee, but there would probably be pushback from builders and realtors. Seemans said when you consider most new homes in coastal Sussex start out priced at least at $300,000, a $5,000 impact fee would be less than 2 percent of the cost of a home.
The information packet he presented to council included letters of support from Cape Henlopen School District and Sussex Technical School District.
Seemans said the fee would not only provide another revenue stream for school districts, but would also ease how much residents, especially senior citizens, pay in school taxes.
In a letter to the editor, Seemans asked, “Why not make new future homeowners pay their fair share of part of the burden that they are helping to create?”
He said Oliver Gumbs, Cape Henlopen School District director of business operations, was recently quoted in the Cape Gazette saying that a $30 million increase in the year's draft budget was largely due to an increase in capital projects that were approved by taxpayers via referendum.
Seemans said passing referendums can be a painstaking process. He reminded council that it took three referendums before voters approved a new high school in the Indian River School District.
Council members did not respond to Seemans' comments.