Arundel homeowners want millions refunded

Plaintiffs say impact fees were improperly used

January 02, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

After a legal victory last month, lawyers representing a group of Anne Arundel County homeowners say that as many as 40,000 residents will soon be entitled to partial refunds of fees paid to the county government.

As a Jan. 16 hearing nears, lawyers from both sides are trying to determine how many tens of millions of dollars will be at stake when the class action case goes to trial. They say a trial is likely before summer.

County officials say it's premature to count on refunds.

"I'm not conceding there is any money due," said Senior Assistant County Attorney William D. Evans Jr.

Homeowners represented by attorneys Phillip F. Scheibe and John R. Greiber Jr. contend that the county has improperly spent some impact fees - charges levied to pay for infrastructure improvements to accommodate growth - and has held some collected money for too long.

Asked how much money the county might have to refund, Scheibe said, "The best I can tell you is it's a substantial sum of money, and that's as far as I want to go right now."

Evans could not give a figure. "I'm not sure how much is on the table. ... I don't know," he said.

Anne Arundel County approved impact fees in 1987. At issue are fees that may have been misspent or held too long. The county must use money collected from impact fees within a prescribed period of time for purposes such as increasing the capacity of schools and roads.

"I think it's important that people understand all the monies have gone for roads or schools," Evans said.

For a single-family home, the county's impact fee has increased over the years from $877 to more than $4,000. Scheibe said developers pass on those fees to homebuyers, and the current owners would be entitled to the refunds.

On Dec. 8, Circuit Judge Philip T. Caroom made a series of decisions on the case, which was filed in February 2001.

In some rulings, Caroom sided with the county and ruled that money was properly spent. By Evans' estimate, Caroom removed more than $35 million from the dispute.

In other rulings, Caroom sided with the homeowners group. Scheibe said that the only issue at stake now is how much the county must pay in connection with those decisions. Scheibe, who is a former county attorney, said he cannot envision a situation in which the amount would be zero.

But Evans said that number could be zero and that several issues will be determined Jan. 16. "A lot is up in the air," he said.

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