By Jeremy W. Steele and Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HAMILTON TWP. - The first of 14 developers who owe nearly $300,000 in growth fees to Little Miami Schools has pitched in its share.
Towne Properties, developer on a 300-home subdivision called Thornton Grove off of U.S. 22/Ohio 3, sent the township a check for $14,000 Friday, representing all of the money it owes, Zoning Administrator Gary Boeres.
The check was received two days after the Enquirer published a story detailing how many developers had failed to follow through on their promise to pay $266,082 in impact fees to the district as a condition of their zoning.
Brad Austing, general manager for Towne Properties, said his company learned last week that it owed the money. He said the company had received a letter from the school district in 1999 regarding the impact fees.
"It's clearly a communications breakdown," he said.
Trustees, who previously relied on an honor system for sending the payments, changed their procedures this week to include refusing approval of future projects for developers who haven't paid up.
The fees, which have traditionally run $250 per housing unit, have been charged to developers since at least 1996 to secure zoning from the township. Schools use the money to help soften the impact of the influx of new students from housing developments.
Boeres said the township was making arrangements to turn Towne Properties' check over to Little Miami Schools. Superintendent Ralph Shell was elated. He said the money will go into a fund to be used for building improvements.
The township's new rules, approved by trustees on Wednesday, establishes a partnership between the township and schools to collect past and future fees.
Boeres will now notify developers annually about how much they owe local districts, under the new guidelines.
He said he will be sending letters next week to the other 13 developers who still owe fees.
"I've gotten a few phone calls, but no one has really said much," he said of contact with developers following the Enquirer story on Wednesday. "They are waiting for the township to send the letter out."
The township's new policy requires the school district to pursue collection, although the township agreed to join the district as a plaintiff in any lawsuit filed to collect the outstanding debt.
However, Township Law Director Warren Ritchie said the new policy should solve most problems with collection of the fees.
"I've gotten some feedback from developers who haven't paid that they'll be willing to pay once we have this process in place," he said.
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