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Scappoose School Board rejects new construction tax option

By a split vote, board passes on opportunity to collect tax revenue on new construction

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Will Kessi, the Scappoose School Board chair, speaks during the Scappoose School Board meeting Monday, Feb. 8. Kessi said he was opposed to implementing a construction tax in 2007 when the Senate bill was passed, and still is opposed to it now. Builders in Scappoose won’t see a tax on new construction after the Scappoose School Board on Monday narrowly rejected a resolution to implement a proposed square footage-based tax in the district.

A resolution to implement an excise tax on new construction failed during the Scappoose School Board meeting Monday, Feb. 8, with a tie vote of 3 to 3. A majority vote is required to pass a resolution. One board member, Jim Hoag, was absent from Monday’s meeting.

A state Senate bill passed in 2007 allows school districts to impose a one-time tax on new construction that would be collected by the school district to help fund facility maintenance. During a board work session in January, business manager Mitch Neilson asked the board to discuss the possibility of implementing it. Oregon does not specifically provide funding for building upkeep, meaning that money comes from the district’s general fund.

Discussion about the implementation of the tax was heavily debated Monday before the vote. One auidence member spoke in opposition to the tax, arguing it might discourage people from building larger homes because of the high fee they would pay.

Will Kessi, the school board chair, said he was opposed to implementing the tax in 2007 when the bill was first approved by the state Legislature, and still is. Kessi said charging fees on people who don’t already live in the area is an unfair way to collect revenue for the district. Funds should be collected by all community members through bonds and levys, he said.

“If you think it’s OK for other people to pay for our services, then we should be paying for them too,” Kessi said. “That’s not a way to solve our problems, by charging someone who isn’t already here yet. It’s not fair.”

Other board members opposed the tax for other reasons. Lisa Maloney, a board member, said collecting revenue locally from the tax could eventually dilute state funding in the long run.

Supporters had their own reasons for voting in favor of the proposed tax.

While the tax might not generate enough revenue to meet all the maintenance needs in the district, it would be enough to mitigate some of the costs, board member Michelle Graham explained.

Joe Lewis, a board member, argued the tax would be similar to any other development fee, and builders would need to be aware of the impact a new home would have on the community.

“It’s not totally out of line to ask them to anticipate that they’re putting strain on the system,” Lewis said.

School districts in St. Helens, Portland, Hillsboro and Beaverton currently utilize the excise tax on new construction to collect revenue for building maintenance.