Featured Stories

Gresham-Barlow considers excise tax

by: Rob Cullivan, Mike Schofield

The Gresham-Barlow School Board is considering adopting an excise tax on new residential, commercial and industrial development in order to finance various efforts to cope with the district's growing enrollment.

The proposal is possible because of a state law passed in July to help school districts pay for a portion of new or expanded school facilities. As of mid December, 10 districts statewide had adopted a similar tax and about 20 more, including Gresham-Barlow, are considering adopting it, according to David Williams, spokesman for the Oregon School Boards Association.

Senate Bill 1036 allows school boards, in cooperation with cities and counties, to tax new residential and non-residential development, according to district officials. The tax would be $1 per square foot on residential construction and 50 cents per square foot on non-residential construction, not to exceed $25,000 per building permit or $25,000 per structure, whichever is less.

Mike Schofield, the Gresham-Barlow district's chief financial officer, said if passed, developers applying for building permits would have to pay the tax, except for those developing the following:

• Private schools

• Churches and improvements to religious facilities

• Improvements in public buildings

• Affordable (HUD) housing

• Hospital improvements

• Agricultural buildings

At the Thursday, Jan. 10, school board meeting, the school board will review a draft resolution allowing the district to levy the tax. At the Thursday, Feb. 7, board meeting, the public is invited to comment on the proposal. The board is scheduled to vote on the proposal Thursday, March 6. Information on the excise tax is available at www.gresham.k12.or.us.

All three meetings will be held at 7 p.m. in the Gresham Public Safety and Schools Building, 1331 N.W. Eastman Parkway.

Schofield said the projected annual revenue from the new tax is about $700,000, though he stressed that that figure is speculative.

He added that the revenue would not go to the district's operating budget, but rather assist the district in purchasing and preparing sites for future schools, help pay for planning costs associated with new schools or assist in covering some of the costs of renovations or improvements to existing schools.

The district expects its enrollment to increase by 2,000 students over the next eight years and many of its schools are at capacity, including five elementary schools and Gresham and Barlow high schools, according to Athena Vadnais, district spokeswoman.

Under the new law, the district would have to adopt a long-range facilities plan in order to implement the tax, he added.

'We can use funds to deal with architectural and design issues and purchases of land,' he said, adding that the district could use any new revenue for a number of projects. 'We have a lot of candidates, but nothing specific at this point.'

Implementing the excise tax on new construction would involve intergovernmental agreements among the school district and several government entities, including the cities of Gresham, Damascus and Troutdale and Multnomah and Clackamas Counties. Schofield said such agreements would have to be in place before the proposed tax could be implemented, and that each government would receive up to 1 percent of the tax collected in its area to finance administrative costs associated with implementing the levy.

District officials noted that the excise tax option enjoyed bipartisan support by the Oregon Legislature and was supported by such groups as the Oregon Home Builders Association, the Oregon School Boards Association, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, Stand for Children and the Oregon PTA.