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Bill To Increase Funding 3% In Colo. Would Strike Impact Fees

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Colorado Gov. Roy Romer is considering signing a bill that would strike a important revenue source for fast-growing school districts--even though he thinks schools need the cash.

The legislature put the third-term Democrat in this awkward position earlier this month when it cleared a proposal that would prohibit school impact fees. The fees are charged on new homes to raise money for school construction, and some school officials welcome the fees as a budget supplement to help keep pace with booming enrollments.

The governor opposes banning school impact fees, said Jim Carpenter, his press secretary. But the ban is an amendment attached to school-finance legislation, which includes a 3 percent spending increase the governor wants.

"It would be very difficult to veto the bill over that provision," Mr. Carpenter said.

Gov. Romer is looking into whether he can legally use his line-item-veto authority to strip the impact-fee provision from the bill, but such a move "would probably guarantee a lawsuit," Mr. Carpenter said.

The governor has until June 7 to act on the bill.

Ruled Unconstitutional

The impact-fee legislation stems in part from lawsuits filed by developers challenging the constitutionality of impact fees in the Douglas County and St. Vrain school districts. County officials in both districts levied the fees intending to pass the proceeds to schools.

District courts have ruled such financial arrangements unconstitutional. Those decisions were appealed. The two suits have been combined and await a decision by the Colorado Supreme Court. (See Education Week, April 19, 1995.)

The measure before Mr. Romer would clarify the lower-court rulings by permitting local governments to raise money for schools by all means except impact fees.

Although the bill as originally proposed would have banned impact fees this year, Douglas County school officials lobbied to delay the deadline for collecting fees until July 1997. While the courts deal with the legal challenge, developers in Douglas County have voluntarily paid $8 million in fees since 1992, and the 20,000-student district wants to tap into that money to build a new elementary school.

"If the deadline for collecting fees had not been extended, we would not have been able to build that school," Jill Fox, a district spokeswoman, said.

Douglas County was the fastest-growing county in the country from 1990 to 1995.

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