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Construction tax fair

As the Gresham area continues to grow - as it inevitably will - it is important that existing residents not be the only ones burdened with the expense of providing services to new neighborhoods.

The city of Gresham has been careful as it plans for new development to ensure that growth helps to pay for itself. This has been accomplished in large part through systems development charges for services such as new water and sewer lines - charges that are incorporated into the cost of new construction.

Now, the Gresham-Barlow School District is considering whether to take a similar approach by implementing an excise tax on new construction. This tax - which was enabled by the 2007 Legislature with support from Democrats, Republicans and the Oregon Home Builders Association - would amount to $1 per square foot on residential construction and 50 cents per square foot on non-residential construction.

The tax could generate around $700,000 a year to help with the district's capital-construction projects. That's just a pittance in comparison to the multi-million dollar expense of even one new school building. And Gresham-Barlow, as well as other East County school districts, will need dozens of new schools in the coming decades. But the excise tax would be a start toward having new development help offset the cost of the new school buildings that must follow growth.

As neighborhoods are built in places such as Pleasant Valley, Springwater, Damascus and the rest of East County, local school districts will be required to provide education to the students who live in those developments - and there is no way to do that without building more classrooms.

The Gresham-Barlow district isn't acting alone in pursuing the tax. Already, 10 school districts in Oregon have adopted the excise tax, and another 20 are considering it. And in others states, similar taxes or systems development charges for schools are common mechanisms for raising construction dollars.

Quality schools certainly are important to maintain livable communities and to keep a healthy real estate market. This excise tax, while only a partial answer, will ensure that new neighborhoods help share in the expense of new or expanded schools.