County holds the line on impact fees

Data indicate increase possible, but idea vetoed by commissioners

July 26, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Although the county could argue favorably for an increase in the fees charged to developers of new homes, the commissioners decided yesterday to keep costs at their existing rate.

After a review of school construction and land acquisition costs, Gene Curfman, county comptroller, said impact fees could increase by nearly $1,100 to $5,810 for a single-family home and could double to $6,559 for a townhouse.

"I am not interested in increasing the fees," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier. "It is just another tax passed on to residents, and it is counterproductive if we are trying for affordable housing."

The increase would affect buyers of lower-cost housing, such as townhouses and mobile homes. The fee for a new mobile home would increase by more than $2,000 to $3,650.

"Those numbers are almost double, because the number of kids in those homes is dramatically different," said Curfman.

But, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said, those townhouses "are today's affordable housing." Builders also pay the county for water and sewer hookups. If their projects are within one of the eight municipalities, they pay additional impact fees to the town. All those costs are passed on to the buyer.

"We are putting a tremendous burden on any one house before we ever get to the first shovel of dirt," said Gouge.

Impact fees, which the county has imposed on new residential construction since 1989, were last increased in 1998. The money goes for school construction and parks projects.

With part of the piggyback tax on personal income also going to school construction, Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he could see no need for any change in the impact fee.

The combined revenue "should serve our needs," said Dell.

"Impact fees just increase costs to homeowners," he said.

Carroll, whose population has grown by about 50 percent since the 1970's, is catching up to its need for classrooms.

With the construction schedule slowing, Frazier suggested a decrease or elimination of the impact fees.

"They are icing on the cake, and maybe we need to take the icing off," said Frazier.

Gouge said she would not recommend an increase at this time.

"We are already talking about increases in the water and sewer rates," said Gouge. "There is a lot coming into the equation, and we should take it a little slow."

The board voted unanimously yesterday to increase water and sewer charges to about 7,000 customers who rely on public utilities. The average user - who consumes about 25,000 gallons of water every quarter-year - will pay an increase of 7.7 percent.

Consumers will see the new rate, which took effect July 1, reflected in their October bills.

The new rates mean the county will recover 100 percent of its operating costs, satisfy its debt service and establish a reserve fund for maintenance and upgrading equipment.

"This puts our operating system in the black," said Curfman.

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