Impact fee measure approved

Commissioners pass amendment to Capital Improvements Chapter of Comprehensive Plan

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COEUR d'ALENE - Partway there.

After back-to-back hearings on Thursday night, the Kootenai County commissioners passed one of two measures that would allow for impact-fee funded improvement projects, aimed at helping taxing districts accommodate new growth.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve an amendment to the Capital Improvements Chapter of the county Comprehensive Plan.

The amendment doesn't enact Capital Improvement Plans (CIPS), or projects to help districts improve their services, but simply expedites the process to update those plans.

"This is just an amendment to the Comp Plan to clean the process up," said Commissioner Todd Tondee.

The officials also voted unanimously to table deliberations on the more controversial issue of the night, the Kootenai County Development Impact Fee Ordinance.

The new law would create development fees to fund only growth-related projects for highway districts, EMS, fire districts, the sheriff's department, the jail, and the county Parks and Waterways Department.

The commissioners agreed that before making a decision, they would prefer to have Thursday night's testimony reviewed by county attorney Pat Braden, absent due to personal reasons.

"I'd like to have Pat review the testimony to make sure everything is in line," said Commissioner Rick Currie.

The ordinance hearing, continued from last year, garnered similar complaints raised at the initial hearing, which was tabled so taxing districts could retool their proposed improvement projects.

Although an Impact Fee Advisory Committee had spent the last year revising the proposed CIPs, which include new fire stations and road repairs, some still voiced concerns.

Collin Coles, retired planner for the city of Post Falls, criticized that some proposed projects would have impact fees paying for more than just new growth.

"We have unschooled districts that were not given proper help in putting together their plans," Coles said.

He requested the commissioners allow more time for districts to correct their CIPs.

"It should take some time, but anything worth doing is worth doing well," he said.

Eric Keck, Post Falls city administrator, said that the county has done a poor job during the CIP process in communicating with cities, which still have to agree to collect the new impact fees.

At this time, he doubts that any cities would agree to collect the fees, he said.

That means the county could only collect in unincorporated areas, which would benefit few districts.

"That creates a huge nightmare," Keck said. "You would have the county billing department collecting fees in unincorporated areas, the cities wouldn't be collecting, and somebody would be arguing the inequity in that and surely litigation would come of that."

He added that if any improvement projects don't fall under state statute, that could also lead to litigation and possibly termination of impact fees statewide.

"We feel strongly we don't want the actions of the county and districts to ensure the unwinding of impact fees for all jurisdictions in the state," Keck said.

He also protested CIPs that include rolling stock, like sheriff's vehicles and fire engines, which he doesn't believe qualifies for impact fees.

"Capital improvements to us is brick and mortar," he said.

District representatives defended their updated CIPs.

Jimmie Dorsey with East Side Highway District pointed out that the districts have worked with a professional consulting firm to readjust the proposed projects.

"There's nothing in our CIP that (addresses) anything other than growth," Dorsey said. "We feel very comfortable with what we submitted."

He stressed the urgent need of his district to acquire impact fees.

"Our levy rate is the 14th lowest of the 72 highway districts in the state," Dorsey said. "If there is any more capacity is in our area, we don't have funds to improve them (roads). Without impact fees, our service will go down."

Lynn Humphreys with the Post Falls Highway District, who had sat on the Impact Fee Advisory Committee, argued that someone is going to litigate over the new impact fees no matter what.

"There's always an attorney looking to make a dollar," he said. "We could have had dealings with the cities to improve communication with them, but I don't believe now is the time to start over at square one."

Larry Clark with the Northern Lakes Fire District, also an advisory committee member, suggested maybe 60 to 90 days to discuss the CIPs with cities.

"I think it can be done," he said. "If I get any feeling on this, it's that we're all willing to work together on this."

Deliberations on the impact fee ordinance will continue at 10 a.m. on Aug. 19 at the Kootenai County Administration Building.

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