Carroll poised to raise impact fees Two commissioners favor increase of 6% to offset growth costs

October 13, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Concerned that rapid growth is outpacing Carroll County's ability to pay for new roads and schools -- and to protect longtime residents from new taxes -- the county commissioners are preparing to increase the fees they charge developers for new housing.

The 6 percent increase in impact fees, which are used to fund school and park projects, would raise the price that buyers pay for new residential development in a county that has seen its population grow by about 50 percent since the 1970s.

"My philosophy has always been that people coming to the county should bear the brunt of the infrastructure costs, not the people who have lived here for a long while," said Commissioner Richard T. Yates, who lost his bid for re-election in the September primary.

Yates and Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who is also leaving office after his term ends in November, favor the higher fees, which were last raised in 1995 to the present rate of $4,487 for a single-family home.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who is up for re-election, is likely to vote against the increase. "When do you decide that enough is enough?" he said.

Brown and Yates asked the county comptroller several months ago to tell them what fees were needed for roads, schools, parks and other services to support the 1,000 residential units a year allowed under the county's new growth control law, Brown said.

The comptroller recommended the increase in a report given to the commissioners Wednesday.

What concerned him, Brown said, is that money for road construction was being diverted to schools. When he came into office four years ago, the county was spending $8 million a year on roads, but that has dwindled to $500,000.

"We were robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said.

With parents and teachers lobbying for more school money, it was tough not to take money from elsewhere and put it in the school budget, he said.

"We're also looking at an impact fee for roads," Brown said, but he does not expect that to be ready before he and Yates depart.

Republican state Sen. Larry E. Haines, who owns a Westminster real estate company, said the impact fee discriminates against the poor, since it is the same for everyone regardless of income.

"Every increase is significant over the long-term and will inflate the value" of all residential properties in Carroll, which will lead to higher property assessments and higher property taxes, Haines said. Property tax revenues are driven by reassessments of property values. The assessments are often tied to sales prices. Higher prices ultimately lead, therefore, to higher assessments and higher taxes, Haines said.

Rather than increase impact fees, he said the county should reduce its property tax rate in light of a recent upsurge in home prices. Brown and Dell raised the property tax rate this term, from $2.35 per $100 of assessed value to $2.62 per $100 of assessed value, to avoid cutting essential services.

"I don't think the current board -- a lame duck board -- should enact any new law or impose any new fees," Haines said. "That ought to be left to the new board." If the fee is raised, the new commissioners should lower it again, Haines said.

"I don't know if this is politics on the part of two lame-duck incumbents who want to force candidates to take a stand before Nov. 3," he said, "but I think all the candidates -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- are pretty much against an increase in impact fees.

So, too, are Carroll's homebuilders -- although it is not likely that they will wage a battle against the increase as they had done with the county's growth-control law, said Westminster developer Richard L. Hull.

"Adding $275 to the price of a single-family home is not a lot of money worth fighting over, so we will not mount a legal challenge," Hull said. "Obviously, we in the home-building industry are not excited about the increase in the price of homes to our customers. It is strictly a pass-through. The customer has to pay more."

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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