COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County will refund the nearly $300,000 in impact fees collected for its departments, the commissioners voted unanimously on Thursday.
That includes fees collected for the jail, the parks department and the sheriff's department.
Refunding payments to more than 180 property owners and/or contractors is a crucial part of retooling the county's now-suspended impact fees, said Commissioner Todd Tondee.
"Going through the analysis, this is something that's hanging over its head, the people who have paid impact fees," said Tondee, the driving force behind initially creating and now revising countywide impact fees. "To get this weight off them would be better."
The commissioners had suspended impact fees in December, a year and a half after adopting them, due to issues with collection and fee structure.
The commissioners hope to revise and revive the fees in the next year and a half.
The county will refund $286,935 in impact fees, which were collected for the three departments from June 2011 through December 2012.
Tondee acknowledged that the impact fees, charged to individuals behind new development projects, had not been fairly charged and collected.
"We've learned a lot in this process," Tondee said of the years of cobbling an impact fee ordinance and partnering with agencies. "It's been longer than a bachelor's degree time period."
The commissioners' decision was a relief to Bill Potts.
When building his Windy Bay home, Potts had been surprised that he had to pay $3,800 in impact fees to the county and Worley Fire District, he said.
"I was building a home, and lost my job at the same time," Potts said. "Thirty-eight hundred dollars was like $10,000 to me."
Also grateful was Bob Bingham, who paid the county $1,500 in impact fees when building a new home near Athol.
"It really matters to us. We're not wealthy people," Bingham said, adding that he hopes officials find an alternative to impact fees. "The impact fee program, while it was based in good motives when it was brought up, it was very flawed in enactment. That was the cause for its demise."
Tondee pointed out issues with the fees, like whether building projects were charged for their proportionate share of impact on local services.
"A commercial storage unit is paying the same as a retail center," Tondee cited as an example.
Collection complications also upset the process, Tondee noted.
Some cities refused to collect impact fees on behalf of taxing districts who were on board with charging impact fees. Only cities and counties can collect impact fees, under state law.
Commissioner Dan Green pointed out another knot to untie; the difficulty in calculating a building project's impact on some departments, like the jail.
It can't be known if residents of a new home will ever use the jail, he said.
"You can't quantify what the demand is going to be on the jail until people are arrested and put in jail," Green said.
All three commissioners agreed they still believe in impact fees, and they hope to sort out the web of issues in ensuing months.
"There's still a lot of support for impact fees," said Commissioner Jai Nelson, pointing out that only one impact fee appeal was ever filed.
Legal staff will determine if the county will refund the fees to contractors or property owners, the commissioners said.
County EMS, overseen by the Joint Powers Board, will decide separately whether to refund the roughly $3,000 it received in impact fees.
Taxing districts like Post Falls Highway District and Worley Fire District have already chosen to refund impact fees the county collected for them.
On Thursday, the commissioners also agreed to refund the $19,556 in administration fees the county charged taxing districts, for collecting impact fees on the districts' behalf.