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Impact fee numbers branded ‘arbitrary and capricious’

By Staff | Feb 27, 2015

Jefferson County Commissioners voted Thursday to lower impact fees levied against new home construction in the county. While expected that the fees would be lowered, the amount to which the numbers have fallen was unexpected.

The county spent nearly $60,000 to have a study done in an effort to justify lowering the fees that provide for levels of service required for new residents. Before the results of the study could be completely explained and numbers presented for a vote, Commissioner Walt Pellish made a motion to cut the fees beyond what the study proposed.

“These are completely arbitrary and capricious numbers,” Commissioner Dale Manuel repeated throughout the tense discussion that followed the motion.

“I have to apologize to the taxpayers of this county for the waste of $60,000 of tax payer money we spent on this study,” Manuel continued.

The amount of the impact fees, which currently provide funding for schools, fire and emergency services, police and parks and recreation, currently sit at $13,070 for a single family or mobile home; $9,868 for a townhome or duplex and $7,594 for multi-family (apartments and condos). The study, completed by TishclerBise Fiscal, Economic and Planning Consultants, proposed fees lowered to $9,065 for single family; $10,094 for townhomes, $9,850 for duplex and $6,366 for multi-family, according to a chart obtained from the county’s Impact Fee office.

The consultant numbers came after months of meetings, discussions, public hearings and other input from all concerned parties. While many of the entities that receive the funds were not happy with the proposed cuts, understanding had been reached in the discussions, Manuel said.

Pellish, despite what the study indicated are defendable numbers, moved that the county cut the fees based on various percentages. Pellish’s cuts were at 30 percent on some current fees and 30 percent of some of the consultant’s proposed fees. His final numbers came in at $6,346 for single family homes,; $6,908 for townhomes and duplexes and $4,456 for multi-family.

“Impact fees have done some good things,” Pellish said Thursday. “But they are way too high.” He went on to say that the fees prohibit growth in the county which would increase the tax base. That increase in taxes is where revenue needs to come from, he continued.

Pellish went on to say that there is no proposed building by the school system in the foreseeable future, nor by the Sheriff’s office. He argued that should his proposed fees be a mistake, there is still time in the future to come back and change them again.

Joining Pellish in approving his proposed numbers were Commissioner Patsy Noland who expressed that her vote was based on bringing affordable housing to the county, and Eric Bell who agreed that the fees have been too high.

Members of the school board were in attendance at the meeting; however, they were not given an opportunity to speak to the new numbers put forth by Pellish. While Manuel attempted to allow input from those affected, his motion to do so was defeated.

“We’ve had public hearings on this,” Pellish said. “We need to move on.”

School Board president Scott Sudduth said later this week that the school system is upset by the vote of the commission. He indicated that impact fees have allowed the school system to levy additional funding from the State School Building Authority for capital construction. He refuted Pellish’s claims that construction is not imminent in the county stating that many of the current schools are at capacity. He indicated construction of additional schools will be necessary within the next three years.

The reduced fees go into effect March 1.