Fee would help cover costs for schools along urban Honolulu rail route

Rail triggers proposed fee to help pay for growing schools along route
Published: Nov. 3, 2016 at 3:20 AM HST|Updated: Nov. 3, 2016 at 3:52 PM HST
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(image: Hawaii News Now)
(image: Hawaii News Now)

KALIHI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An expected construction boom around the rail line route in urban Honolulu could trigger the need for as many as nine new schools to handle thousands of new students. And that's prompting state education officials to call on developers to pitch in for the costs of those new campuses.

The Department of Education is proposing a "school impact district" developers fee for Kalihi to Ala Moana, which could see some 40,000 new housing units along the rail route. In the district, developers would be charged $9,374 for every new unit built to help pay for new schools or expand current ones.

At a public meeting Wednesday at Farrington High on the proposal, there was mixed reaction to the proposal.

Corey Rosenlee, president of Hawaii State Teachers Association, said the area is long overdue for a school impact fee.

"Hawaii schools on average are 65 years old and they're falling apart," said Rosenlee, whose union represents 13,500 public school teachers. "Today we're at Farrington High School and its auditorium collapsed. If it has been an hour later, there would have been children that would have probably died in that auditorium. At some point we need to get serious about funding our schools and our facilities."

But others worry the fee could stymie development.

Acting Deputy Director of the city's Department of Planning and Permitting Kathy Sokugawa says her department isn't opposed to impact fees, just this specific proposal.

"This is gonna dampen the development potential," Sokugawa said.

With a few exceptions, the fee would apply to new homes and new housing developments, even affordable housing projects.

Other areas that have seen growth have similar impact areas, but this is the first time it would be imposed in urban Honolulu.

"Instead of charging the entire state of Hawaii to build a new school, we can offset that cost with money received from the community that actually placed that burden or need for a new school," said Dann Carlson, assistant superintendent for school facilities.

The fee would also apply to homeowners who add second units.

Sokugawa noted that the city just did away with the fees for accessory dwelling units, and the new school impact fee would deter growth.

"That amount of money that a homeowner would save is just going to be erased by this impact fee because it's approximately the same amount. So it would be ironic to have us reduce the fee only to have re-imposed again by the state," Sokugawa said.

The DOE is set to bring the proposal to the Board of Education on Nov. 15.

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