Arundel refigures the equation

Our view: Impact fee compromise benefits public, gives developers time to pay their share

November 05, 2008

Anne Arundel County is on its way to returning some financial integrity to the fees paid by developers to offset the county cost of accompanying road and school improvements.

The County Council this week approved legislation for a phased-in increase in impact fees, ending a 10-month debate over getting developers to pay their fair share. The bill was a compromise reached with County Executive John R. Leopold, who had pushed to revise impact fees that long ago failed to keep pace with the rising costs of road and school construction to serve new residential and commercial developments.

Developers fought the proposal. But for a county with a property tax cap that elected officials are loath to change, impact fees have provided much-needed revenue - more than $141 million since 1988. In their pitch to raise the fees, Mr. Leopold and supporters had the facts on their side. Without an increase, they said, the county government would continue to lose an estimated $3 million a year on infrastructure costs related to new development, construction that county taxpayers were basically subsidizing. In one of its biannual surveys, Anne Arundel Community College asked citizens if they would support an increase in impact fees, and according to Mr. Leopold, two-thirds who responded said yes.

While Anne Arundel's impact fees have risen only 2.8 percent, reflecting growth in the consumer price index, the county's cost per mile to build a road has increased 85 percent since 2000. The per pupil cost to build a school has risen from $18,400 to at least $48,800, county figures show.

With the bill set to expire, the council, led by Chairwoman Catherine Vitale, approved the impact fee legislation Monday in a 4-3 vote. Developers who had argued that they couldn't afford higher fees in this economic downturn won't have to pay the higher fees initially; they will get a break on impact fees for the next 20 months to help keep projects going and workers employed. The new fees, which will reflect square footage, must be in place by 2011 when the county is expecting additional development to meet the needs of military workers relocating here under an expansion at Fort Meade. That should benefit developer and taxpayer alike.

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