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Impact fee hearing draws large crowd

By Staff | Mar 23, 2015

Jefferson County Commissioners heard from approximately 40 residents who packed their meeting room Monday evening for a public hearing on impact fees.

The hearing came after a vote by commissioners on Feb. 19 cut impact fees far below a proposed amount presented by a study by consulting firm Tischler/Bise. The Jefferson County Board of Education subsequently filed an injunction against the county’s reduction of fees. Judge John Yoder continued the court proceedings allowing for a hearing to take place.

Members of the Board of Education were on hand to speak at the hearing Monday. President Scott Sudduth outlined what impact fees have helped accomplish in the county since their inception as well as explained the upcoming need for additional schools in the near future.

“Ten years ago, we had one less high school, one less middle school and one less intermediate school. We had 85 portable classrooms throughout the community,” Sudduth said. “Our students are now completely out of portable classrooms.”

In reference to comments he had received regarding neighboring Berkeley County, where there are no impact fees, Sudduth said that that county has increased their taxes by $42 million in bond issues and still have more than 100 portable classrooms for their students.

Following up on those thoughts, Board of Education member Kathy Skinner stressed that she believes a slow-down in construction has nothing to do with the impact fees imposed in the county.

Commissioners had lowered the fees indicating that by doing so more homes would be constructed in the county, thereby increasing the tax base.

Former Harpers Ferry Middle School principal and Shepherdstown resident Joe Spurgas told of the many portable classrooms that were at his school and the detriment they caused to students whether it was safety, weather or lack of internet.

“Jefferson County will continue to need capital improvements,” Spurgas said.

Harpers Ferry Middle did receive a portion of impact fees to help with additions to the school, despite comments made by some that repairs were not impact fee fundable, according to Ralph Dignes, assistant superintendent in charge of construction.

Board member Mark Osbourn explained that the fees collected have helped the Board of Education secure funding from the School Building Authority for needed construction. He called for the commission to set the fees as the amount proposed in the study.

Currently the fees are set at just over $13,000 per single-family home. The TischlerBise study proposed a reduction to just over $9,000. The commission voted Feb. 19 to reduce the fee per single-family home to just over $6,300.

Several individuals speaking at the hearing Monday asked for data from the commission to support their reduction in fees so far below the amount indicated by the study. Commissioners did not comment at any point during the evening as a public hearing is for comment only, not a debate between public an commissioners, according to Commission President Jane Tabb.

In addition to school board supporters, several in the audience spoke with regard to the fees collected to provide improvements to the sheriff, fire and rescue companies and the county’s parks and recreation, all of whom receive some portion of impact fees.

Parks and Recreation treasurer Paul Marshall shared that the department has used the fees to purchase and begin development of a new park, Hite Road Park, with impact fee funds. In addition, funds have been used on other capital projects to provide increased level of service to residents.

“We at parks and rec have been able to use those funds to leverage money for grants. We have received several federal grants because we had those matching funds,” Marshall said.

Several residents who wish to build new homes in the county voiced their dilemma with regard to affordability.

Casey North shared that he had received notification from the county that the fee had been reduced and he showed up to receive his building permit only to find that an injunction in court has fees still set at over $13,000.

“I anticipated the $6,000 impact fee but instead had to go into my 401K to get the balance of the $13,800,” he said.

Alyssa Meeks, a 12th generation resident of Jefferson County, shared that she and her husband, both law enforcement officers, cannot built a new home because of the impact fee.

Will Garrett, a WV State Trooper stationed here, agreed.

“We can’t build a home here,” Garrett said of his family. “It’s a huge economic hit on us. Someone like me and my family get lost in the shuffle. But we are real people,” he said.

Developers who spoke during the hearing opening admitted that the fees are added on to the cost of the home and picked up by the home buyer.

Tim Cown, an executive with Dan Ryan Homes, explained that his company is missing out on construction opportunities in Jefferson because of the impact fees. He called for lower fees saying that would encourage housing construction which would in turn help the economy through related spending at area businesses.

“Housing is what brought us out of the last recession,” he said. “Lowering the fees will help that now.”

No decisions were made at the hearing regarding whether the commission may or may not revisit the fees established by their Feb. 19 vote. While the injunction is in place, the fees remain at the highest level.

Written comments will be accepted from any who wish to submit them through March 30. They may be mailed or emailed to the Jefferson County Commission.