Council's impact fee deadline draws near

Proposal will fail if it is not passed by Tuesday

Amendments limit bill's focus

April 17, 2005|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Tuesday is crunch time for Harford County's proposed legislation to impose an impact fee of up to $8,269 on new houses. The council needs to act on the measure by then or it automatically fails.

The controversial legislation, which is designed to raise money for school construction and renovation, is strongly opposed by the construction industry and is a sore spot for some council members.

In addition to the fee of $8,269 on a single-family house, the bill would allow for a fee of $5,270 on a townhouse or duplex and $1,637 for all other residential units, including mobile homes.

Under the county charter, a bill dies if not passed by lawmakers within 45 working days of its introduction.

In preparation for a final vote on the bill this week, council members have approved several amendments designed to limit its focus.

They rescinded one amendment last week that was approved the week before and have at least one more to consider before voting on the bill.

Amendments approved include:

One that eliminates the fee for a replacement home, such as one destroyed by fire.

One that would have the county pay the fee for houses built by nonprofit organizations for low-income families.

An amendment that would allow the council to reconsider the impact fee if another school funding source is approved at a later date. "We might get additional revenue sources in the future," said Council President Robert S. Wagner, sponsor of the amendment.

He said that if the General Assembly eventually gives the council the authority to boost the transfer tax on the purchase of a house, the council could remove or reduce the impact fee.

At its April 5 meeting, the council approved an amendment that would have the impact fee paid at settlement rather than when applying for a building permit.

Its sponsor, Lance C. Miller, argued at the time that there was no impact on the school system until a homebuyer moved onto a property.

But after taking a second look at the amendment, the council rescinded it, after Miller noted that it could develop a loophole in which a person who owned the land and paid for building a house without outside financing could avoid the impact fee.

Wagner said it made for a cleaner bill to require the payment at time of applying for a building permit. He said the change was done with good intentions, but it was a situation that "when put on paper, it did not work as cleanly as expected."

Councilman Dion F. Guthrie said, "No matter when it's paid, it will be paid by the homebuyer," not the builder applying for the permit.

Another proposed change in the bill by Miller would reduce the impact fee by nearly 40 percent. That proposal was held for discussion Tuesday.

Representatives of the building industry argue that under the impact fee bill, buyers of new homes would pay more than their fair share of the cost of school construction.

Wagner has said he does not think the impact fee is fair, but, he said, it was the only authority the council was given by the General Assembly to pay for schools.

The council had asked for a number of funding sources for schools, including a increase in the transfer tax, which is paid by buyers of new as well as previously owned homes.

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