The current County Commissioners probably won't be around to bash if development impact fees ever are increased in Carroll.
In a surprise move Thursday, the commissioners granted a reprieve to developers and citizens who want to build new homes in Carroll, deciding not to increase impact fees -- at least for now.
Following almost a year of debate -- including analysis of a $54,700 consultant's study and a public hearing that triggered reductions in the originally proposed increases -- the commissioners let the issue drop.
But they weren't in agreement.
Commissioner Jeff Griffith motioned to accept proposed increases in the fees, imposed to help pay for new public facilities necessary to accommodate growth. Neither Commissioner President John L. Armacost nor Commissioner Julia W. Gouge seconded the motion.
Gouge cited a slumping economy and real estate market and complaints she has received from longtime county residents wanting to build new homes in Carroll as reasons for rejecting the proposal. Armacost said the relatively small increase wouldn't be worthwhile.
However, Gouge and Armacost voted in favor of Griffith's proposal to reconvene a county impact fee advisory committee to conduct annual reviews of the assessments.
After the meeting, a chagrined Griffith said taxpayers likely would shoulder more burden of paying for facilities such as senior centers, schools and county offices to make up for the loss of potential revenue.
Gouge said the decision does not necessarily mean a tax rate increase next year.
Gouge is the only one of the three running for re-election this year, leaving the fate of future impact fee changes with at least two new commissioners.
The impact fee, enacted in May 1989, is $2,700 per single-family home and town house to finance new school and park construction, except in South Carroll, where an additional $800 per unit is charged for reservoir development. Developers generally pass on the costs to home buyers.
The proposed changes would have increased fees for new single-family homes to $3,200, while reducing the charge for town houses to $2,688 and apartments from $2,150 to $1,948.
After prefacing Thursday's meeting by claiming county staff had hammered out "a pretty tight ordinance" to justify raising the fees, Armacost said he couldn't accept the proposal because a $500 increase for single-family homes wasn't "worth the squeezing."
"If it was $1,000 or a couple of thousand dollars, I would have gone along with it," he said. "I've been told (the proposal) would increase county coffers by $500,000 per year. I don't feel it's worth it."
Griffith called Armacost's argument "patently illogical."
"Whatever the appropriate number is, that's what ought to be enacted," Griffith said.
The county did not propose raising the fees to maximum justifiable levels, partly because of the soft housing market, Griffith added. County officials determined that the builder of a new single-family home could be charged up to $4,832 -- or $6,132 in the Mount Airy Reservoir District.
Of the proposed $500 increase for new single-family homes, $338 per unit would have been targeted toward senior centers and county office building construction and $162 toward schools and parks.
"Now we'll have no additional revenue in the stream for those facilities, which we need very badly," Griffith said. "I think it was a stupid decision."
Developer Martin K. P. Hill, who attended the meeting, said he was surprised by Armacost's position and pleased that the county won't raise his cost of doing business.
"With the current economic climate, we don't need another burden to bear," said Hill, president of Masonry Contractors Inc. of Manchester.
Gouge said she has preferred all along to postpone raising the fees this year to allow more time for government review, citizen input and an upturn in the building industry. Also, records show the fees have been about evenly divided between citizens moving into the county and current Carroll residents building new homes, she said. The Carroll residents are being unfairly charged, since they are not adding to the population or putting additional strain on services, she said.
Letters from Carroll residents saying they can't afford any increases in an already high-priced housing market "confirmed what I thought," said Gouge.
Carroll residents might not be burdened with higher taxes because the the growth rate is slowing, lessening the impact on public facilities, reasoned Gouge.
Developers objected at an Aug. 16 public hearing to proposed maximum fees, which were as high as $6,893 for a single-family home in South Carroll. They said revised charges for schools and the reservoir could not be justified legally and were based on faulty data.
County finance director Eugene C. Curfman said the recommended fees had since been "verified and reverified" to make them "more supportable."
Hill said the figures proposed Thursday probably would not have been challenged in court by builders.