Proposal on impact fees worries county delegates

Rise may be based on inflation rate

January 28, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Worried about the impact on affordable housing, Anne Arundel County delegates have flagged problems they see in the county's plan to raise one-time impact fees charged to developers for new construction.

The State/County Projects Subcommittee of the delegation said that while the county is permitted under the law to raise the fees, "we would recommend caution."

For a detached single-family home, the county's "blue ribbon" panel is recommending an increase to $4,069 from $2,629 per house as of next January.

The fees would be adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation. The subcommittee raised concerns about that aspect of the proposal in a letter to County Executive Janet S. Owens last week.

"Attaching annual fee adjustments to the Consumer Price Index could be problematic," the letter says, "particularly in years of high inflation when high impact fees could reduce development and home ownership, at a time when both need to be encouraged."

The subcommittee, led by Del. John R. Leopold, suggests that the annual adjustment be capped at a "reasonable" figure. That way, in years of high inflation, homeowners struggling with escalating housing and mortgage costs and developers facing building expenses "are not also burdened with the effects of excessive impact fees."

Unchanged since start

Any increase would mark the first change in the fees since they were instituted in 1987 as a way to help offset the county's road and school costs arising from home construction. A public hearing to discuss the fees is scheduled for tomorrow night.

The 50 percent jump, which would be phased in in July and January, is much smaller than the quadrupling previously urged by a consultant the county hired to examine the fees.

County Council members, who must approve any increase, had mixed responses to the proposal unveiled last month by the 11-member panel, which was appointed by Owens and led by St. John's College President Christopher B. Nelson.

Some council members worried that a low fee would not adequately cover the county's costs at time when major school and road repairs are needed. Others were concerned that high fees would make it difficult for people trying to buy less expensive houses. Experts say impact fees are passed along from the builder to the buyer.

In addressing the effect of fees on affordable housing, the Nelson panel suggested that the county explore using other revenue sources to cover these fees. The delegation subcommittee said that "we hope and expect that [the affordable housing] issue will be a priority in the program to implement the new impact fees."

Besides the impact fees, the panel - representing developers, the county Chamber of Commerce, environmental and community associations - also suggested the addition of a $104-a-house impact fee for new houses to help pay for fire and police capital projects.

"We're concerned that residents who are not paying these fees are benefiting from services paid for by these fees," Leopold said.

Letter `premature'

"The letter is premature," said county spokesman John A. Morris. "The county is still digesting the Nelson recommendations. The public hearing Monday night will provide a sounding board for the community to review the musings of the panel."

Since 1987, the county has collected $58 million in school impact fees and $33.4 million in road impact fees. It has appropriated $49 million for 25 school capital projects and $27 million for road projects, according to the Nelson panel.

The Planning Advisory Board's hearing on the fees is set for 5:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Heritage Office Complex at 2660 Riva Road, Annapolis.

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