Op-Ed: School Impact Fees Are A Nonstarter In Paying For School Construction

By: Justin King, Candidate for Johnston County Commissioner

During the recent board of education candidate forum, there were several mentions of using school impact fees to help fund school construction in Johnston County. School impact fees are levied by local municipalities against new subdivision development to aid in paying for the school infrastructure needs that will occur resulting from the proposed development. While I understand the mounting frustration with school overcrowding in Johnston County, school impact fees are an impracticable solution to address our school infrastructure needs. Let’s examine the reasons why:

First, Johnston County would be required to seek approval from the N.C. General Assembly prior to enacting a school impact fee structure. Lawmakers’ in Raleigh have made it clear they are no advocates for school impact fees. In 2017, the General Assembly revoked the authority of Orange County to impose school impact fees on future development. Chatham County now stands alone as the only county with the legal authority to impose any school impact fee. Any movement to enact new school impact fee legislation will be met with swift opposition from building and real estate trade association groups.

Second, school impact fees are the equivalent of imposing tariffs on imported consumer or industrial goods. The fee, as often the case with tariff goods, would be paid by the end-consumer (e.g., future homeowner or renter). Adding additional costs to home prices to pay for school infrastructure can increasingly make the prospect of home ownership unreachable for many in our community.

Finally, the building and development community are in business to make money. If Johnston County creates additional financial barriers to entry, that will push away prospective investors into surrounding counties to develop their projects. Thousands of county residents depend upon the job opportunities created from development projects. We must maintain an adequate supply of affordable housing to keep attracting business and industry to our county.

Instead of wasting time trying to negotiate school impact fees, Johnston County should utilize its borrowing capacity and offer a general obligation bond to solve these issues. If elected, I will gladly support a comprehensive bond referendum package to address our school and utility infrastructure needs. With supportive county leadership, we can address our school facility needs without burdening the job creators and home buyers of Johnston County.