County may suspend impact fees

Some builders say structure needs to be more fair

POST FALLS - Rob Thomas' mini storage project may be back on track.

After paying $11,000 in impact fees aimed at making growth pay for itself to various taxing districts in the county for his commercial building, Thomas had halted his project north of Post Falls.

"The impact fees have not been a hurdle for me," Thomas said. "They've been a brick wall. The impact fees were as much as the concrete and labor put together and, when that happens, you're never going to get something like that to pencil out."

But a proposal that Kootenai County commissioners will consider in the near future on a date to be determined temporarily suspends impact fees at the county level. That's a recommendation that has been forwarded to the board from the impact fee advisory committee.

"If they suspend the fees, I'll probably continue to build," Thomas said. "If not, I'll find a different use."

Thomas attended a joint meeting of the Post Falls City Council and commissioners at Moon Dollars Restaurant on Friday in which impact fees were discussed.

Commissioner Todd Tondee said the suspension of the fees is being proposed after about a year of them being collected by the county because of the rough economy and builders threatening to take their projects elsewhere.

"The intent of impact fees was never to drive people out or lose business," Tondee said. "We'd like to prevent (builders looking elsewhere)."

Tondee said he supports the concept of impact fees, "but right now is not the time to do it."

Tondee said when Kootenai County-Emergency Medical Services recently asked the county to stop collecting its fee because the fees weren't coming in at a rate to pay for an expense, that's another indication that the fees are not living up to what they were intended to do.

Thomas, too, said he supports impact fees, but they have to be fair and rational in regard to the development's impact on services. As it stands, they're not.

"The fee is the same for all commercial builders," he said. "I have to pay the same for my mini storage (square footage-wise) as a Super Wal-Mart, and that's frustrating. They don't care what the building is or how much it costs. All they care about is the square footage and that it's commercial."

Thomas said it's too bad the situation has gotten to the point where the fees are on the verge of being temporarily suspended. He believes the suspension proposal is a quiet admission that the fee structure needs to be changed and that the economy is a scapegoat.

"The economy is the same as it was last year," Thomas said.

Commissioner Dan Green said the fees have been "problematic" based on builder complaints and economic indicators would dictate when they would be implemented again if they are suspended. Not all taxing districts implemented impact fees.

Some area cities that charge impact fees have decreased their rates due the economy, but there have been no proposals to temporarily suspend them altogether.

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