Last week, Williamson County commissioners voted to increase the education impact fee - a one-time fee placed on all new residential construction for the purpose of funding new schools - by up to 20% in some cases.
While the fee has its large share of supporters in the community, who often use the phrase ‘let growth pay for growth,’ it also has its harsh critics. Opponents of the measure argue that the education impact fee only targets one sector of growth, and that as the fee continues to increase, so too will the average home price in Williamson County. The median home price in Williamson County currently stands at $478,400, versus the national median home price of $231,000.
Board President for the Williamson County Association of Realtors (WCAR) Kyle Shults said that she believes a more broad-based tax would more accurately see ‘growth pay for growth,’ and that the education impact fee could have unforeseen consequences that “decrease the attainability [of homes] in Williamson County.”
“As an association, we are supporters of taxes and raising funds through broad-based taxes that spread the burden across the entire county, rather than one sector of the market,” Shults said. “It's in our opinion that the education impact fee is really being ridden on the backs of new construction purchasers, which is just one segment of our community.”
Shults said the WCAR was strongly in support of the most recent county sales tax increase back in early 2018, spending a “fair amount of money sending information into the community to tell them why it [was] important to support” the increase. With the education impact fee, however, Shults said its application is a “misunderstanding” of what accounts for new growth.
“I think there is a misunderstanding that all new growth is new construction,” Shults said. “I have several clients right now that are moving within the county lines from a home they've already owned, and are choosing to purchase another new construction home. So when the comments are made that the new growth should pay for the new schools, new construction is not necessarily just new growth of new people coming into our county.”
First implemented in early 2017, the education impact fee is set to see a vote on a possible increase every three years, with last week’s vote being the first of such cases. Shults said were the county commission to continue to increase the fee, the home prices in the county would likely increase as well.
“I think as they tack onto the cost for a builder to build a home, eventually we're going to start to see that affect the purchase price of homes, and as new construction prices rise, the existing home sales will rise as well,” Shults said. “I think the entire community will end up being impacted by it. As it filters down - and it will take time - it will raise the price of new construction, which will in turn raise the price of existing home sales within the community, and continue to decrease the attainability or affordability [of homes] here in Williamson County.”
Jordan Vaughn, a realtor with Re/Max Fine Homes and president-elect for the WCAR, argued that the education impact fee was ‘sold’ to the public with its fees for smaller sized residential development, which at 1,399 square feet or less, would only see a fee of $3,374 - only a $547 increase from the previously implemented education impact fee.
“They sell this a lot on the smaller square footage - [1,399] square foot is where this fee starts, and it's only [a] $500 [increase]," Vaughn said. "I couldn't tell you the last new construction home that I have personally sold in Williamson County that's been under 1,800 square feet.”
While many local realtors fear the education impact fee could spell trouble for home prices in the county, ultimately, Shults reiterated that her, along with her fellow realtors, continue to be supportive of the county commission and its decisions, and only wish to continue to continue to engage in open dialogue regarding the education impact fee.
“We want our county commissioners to know that we support them and the work that they're doing, we just want to have open dialogue,” Shults said. “We're looking forward to many more conversations with each of the commissioners. We hope that they'll look to us and be able to have our input when they make that decision on the impact fee again in three years.”