WASHINGTON – Parents, staff and supporters of the Dixie Montessori Academy are rallying to protest $634,926 in impact fees levied by Washington City, which they say are illegal while the city maintains the fees are properly charged to the builder.
A group of supporters, mostly parents of children who attend the kindergarten through seventh grade charter school, 1160 N. 645 West, met at the school Tuesday to discuss possible options and strategies.
Washington City has imposed impact fees on Dixie Montessori Academy even though it’s a charter school, school director Julie Wand said.
“Legislation made these laws that even if a for-profit company builds the building for them,” Wand said, “they’re still not allowed to have impact fees that any other public school wouldn’t have.”
Wand backs up the claim that the fees are illegal with a letter from the Utah Department of Commerce Property Rights Ombudsman. The letter is dated July 10, and is an advisory opinion, an early review of significant land use questions in hopes of avoiding litigation and resolving differences. The letter states:
Washington City’s impact fee charges to the Dixie Montessori Academy do not comply with the Impact Fee Act. Charter schools are public schools under Utah law, and enjoy unique treatment under the Impact Fee Act. Impact fees can only be charged to schools when development of the school directly results in the need for additional system improvements. Washington City must give full effect to these provisions of the Act.
Wand said the city has already been paid $130,000 in impact fees, including fees for sewer, water, electricity and endangered species, but should not have to pay any more.
The city has not incurred any direct costs from the school, Wand said; no new streets, lights or sewage pipes were required because the school simply tied into the existing infrastructure.
Washington City Community Development Director Drew Ellerman said he doesn’t know what all the fuss is about. The school does not owe any impact fees, Ellerman said, rather the school’s builder owes the fees.
“I’m curious why the Dixie Montessori people are even in the middle of it,” Ellerman said, “because the Boyer Company is who built that school, and that’s who they’re, from my understanding, purchasing everything from.”
Most cities levy impact fees to cover costs associated with a new home or building, Ellerman said. The fees are intended to make sure a development pays for itself, and other taxpayers are not paying increased costs to the city for infrastructure costs such as streets, sewer, electricity, drainage and more.
Public schools are exempt from certain impact fees, as are charter schools, Ellerman said.
“Their attorneys and our attorneys are working through impact fees,” Ellerman said, “what we think they should pay, and what they think they should pay, or not pay.”
“This is still between us and the Boyer Company, and always has been,” Ellerman said. “We’re claiming we think they should pay a little more, they’re claiming they fall under school (exemptions) and shouldn’t have to pay any, but they do have to pay some. So we’re just in the middle of trying to work those things out.”
Ellerman was surprised to hear that the Dixie Montessori supporters are upset about the impact fees.
“They should have been up in arms about it a year and a half ago when this all started,” Ellerman said. “Nothing’s changed in the last year and a half.”
Wand said the school is in the process of trying to obtain a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan to purchase the school, which they have been leasing from the Boyer Company. The additional $634,926 in impact fees could put the purchase in jeopardy; or at the minimum, cause the school to take out a separate loan.
This is money that could be spent on the school, for the children, Wand said.
The 35,000-square-foot school opened in August 2014 at 1160 N. 645 West in the Green Springs area of Washington, Wand said. It is the only kindergarten through seventh grade Montessori school in Southern Utah, Wand said.
Montessori schools have an individualized curriculum which allow each child to work at their own pace, Wand said, and emphasizes hands-on instruction by providing objects a child can manipulate to demonstrate the concepts being taught.
The Dixie Montessori Academy is a nonprofit corporation in good standing with the Utah Division of Corporations and Commercial Code.
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