Doubling Impact Fees Not the Answer

January 19, 1995

In the current political climate, raising taxes is an exceptionally difficult task. Despite Carroll County's need for more revenue to finance school construction, the anti-tax sentiment is so widespread that the commissioners are constantly in a search for more politically palatable ways to raise revenue.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown has focused on impact fees as the answer to Carroll County's fiscal bind. While impact fees may have a place in a balanced array of taxes, a heavy reliance on them is both ineffective and inequitable.

Impact fees always play well with voters. As long as they aren't planning to buy a new house, current residents figure they escape the levy. Even new residents who buy new homes might not be aware they are paying the fees because they never get the tax bill. It is the developers -- the favorite whipping boys at the moment for Carroll County's problems -- who pay. However, they may write the check to the tax man, but that cost is passed on to the homebuyer.

The underlying assumption of impact fees is that all the people who are buying new homes are migrants from other counties or states. Since these "newcomers" are causing the growth, conventional wisdom suggests they ought to pay for the public infrastructure they require.

This argument may have a superficial logic, but also contains some gaping holes. Migrants can buy an existing house and escape the tax. Families already living in the county may want to move up and buy a new house. The tax also doesn't consider the fact that children of Carroll's current citizens grow up and form their own households. If they buy new homes, they get burdened with the fee.

The fact is everyone benefits from public amenities, such as new schools. It is logical that the entire community share in the costs. Trying to finance their construction by imposing exorbitant impact fees on new construction is inequitable.

Rather than push the burden to a narrow segment of the tax base, Carroll's commissioners should develop an equitable taxing scheme and logical financing plan that will pay for necessary public facilities. Doubling impact fees is fine political grandstanding, but is an unfair and inadequate solution by all other standards.

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