County may suspend impact fees

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After collecting nearly half a million dollars in roughly a year, the Kootenai County commissioners have scheduled a hearing this month to consider suspending impact fees.

The goal of the fees has been for new residential and commercial projects to pay for their additional demand on government services.

But the fees have been difficult to implement, the commissioners have said, and have created a burden for developers.

"We've had a lot of push from some people," said Commissioner Todd Tondee of doing away with the extra charges. "We're just looking at the system. That's what the hearing is for, to hear from people on both sides."

The commissioners approved collecting impact fees for local service districts in February 2011.

The fees are only charged to builders of new residential and commercial structures. The dollars go toward new equipment and buildings for fire and highway districts, as well as county agencies like EMS, the Sheriff's Department, the jail and Parks and Waterways.

Through Sept. 30 this year, the county had collected $410,902 in impact fees for agencies.

But there have been issues, officials say.

Builders and contractors have complained the fees deter new development. And collection has presented issues in itself, said Commissioner Dan Green, with the county collecting for other agencies.

"I think the fees have been problematic to implement," Green said.

At the hearing at 6 p.m. on Nov. 26, the commissioners will consider a proposed ordinance to repeal the current impact fee table and suspend impact fee collection.

The commissioners could make a decision after the hearing, Tondee said.

Green couldn't predict if impact fees would be resurrected later.

"I think that suspending those gives us an opportunity to examine what's available to us, and maybe bring it back, if conditions warrant," Green said.

The difficulty of implementation is seen with Northern Lakes Fire Protection District.

The district hasn't received any impact fees so far, because the cities of Rathdrum and Hayden have refused to approve collection for the fire district.

Even so, fire district Commissioner Larry Clark is an opponent of suspending the fees.

Districts have only 10 years under state statute to collect impact fees for capital improvement projects, he pointed out.

For his district, those include a new fire engine and new station.

"If you suspend impact fees, you're killing them," Clark said. "Every day that kicks by is one day less that we're collecting fees for our capital improvement plans."

Impact fees have been a success for Timberlake Fire District, said Commissioner David Rudebaugh.

Since last year, the district has received $70,000 in impact fees, Rudebaugh said, which will go toward new equipment and vehicles.

"If they suspend (impact fees), it will impact our district," Rudebaugh said. "Once the growth comes back, if we don't have an impact fee structure in place, we will very well not be able to keep up with growth."

He does support lowering impact fees because of the economy, he said.

And he would like to see fees more properly charging for impact.

"There's a difference between the impact of a retail building, versus a 30-by-40-foot storage barn on commercial property," Rudebaugh said, noting that all commercial square footage is charged the same. "We need to make sure we address what the real impact is."

Builders must currently pay impact fees for all the districts their new structure lies within.

Some districts charge more than others. Emergency Medical Services charges .01 cents per square foot of non-residential structures, and $16.30 per residential dwelling unit.

Timberlake Fire Protection District, meanwhile, charges $2,377 per residential dwelling unit, and $1.65 per square foot for non-residential structures.

The way growth and costs look today, the fees just hinder construction, said Barry Stearns, first vice president of North Idaho Building Contractors Association.

"The economy is so delicate, there's not a lot of room for additional costs," he said, adding that the fees are based on 2008 population projections. "If you add impact fees on top of it, people can't afford what they want, or end up building a smaller structure, or don't end up building at all."

Still, without impact fees, districts have to rely on higher taxes or bonds to keep up services, Clark said.

"It is more expensive for people to build," Clark acknowledged of the fees. "But it's a lot more expensive if you don't have that ambulance or that fire engine showing up at your door when you need it."

Coming up

- The county commissioners will hold a public hearing over suspending impact fees at 6 p.m. on Nov. 26, in Room 1 of the county administration building at 451 Government Way.

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