Sussex should support school impact fee

September 22, 2023

Sussex County Council has an opportunity to save taxpayers millions of dollars. 

Gov. John Carney recently signed a bill that allows the county to enact what is essentially an impact fee on most new residential subdivisions. The money collected would help school districts to accommodate the needs of their growing student populations. Developers that don’t want to pay the fee may donate land to the school district at a value equal to that fee. 

Based on recent residential applications in Sussex County, development doesn’t seem to be waning. While developers will likely pass the extra cost on to homebuyers, it will mean less money out of the pockets of taxpayers who already live here.  

This impact fee would significantly affect Cape Henlopen School District, which held referendums in 2014, 2016 and 2018 to keep pace with an exploding population. Since 1994, the district has grown from 3,844 students to about 6,500 at the beginning of this school year.

During a recent school board meeting, Cape Director of Finance Oliver Gumbs estimated the district could’ve accrued $7.6 million in impact fees since Jan. 1, 2022. Think about how much money might have been collected if Sussex County had implemented impact fees when New Castle County did in 1999 or Kent County did in 2006. 

While Cape has expanded or renovated almost every existing building – and built a few new schools – in the last decade, it’s still not enough to keep up. It’s worth noting that until recently, districts were limited by state law to using existing population numbers when planning for new schools. The formula now allows for projected growth.

The high school building, already expanded once, now needs even more classrooms. With limited space on that campus, district officials are considering moving their offices to a new site on land that would have to be purchased. All told, the district is looking at spending more than $100 million for new facilities and expansion of the existing high school. A referendum to increase taxes is likely in the future. 

If there is ever a no-brainer, a school impact fee is it. 

  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

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