CHARLES TOWN – The move by the Jefferson County Commission to cut commercial impact fees was a good one, says John Reisenweber, executive director of the county Economic Development Authority.
“We’re pleased about it,” said Reisenweber. “The hope is that it makes Jefferson County a more attractive place to do business and we hope that is the case. Anything we can do to reduce project costs and level the playing field is going to make us more competitive.”
The County Commission voted recently to eliminate commercial impact fees for two years beginning this summer at the request of economic development officials, who hope the move will bring more businesses to the county and encourage the expansion of existing businesses.
While the precise wording of the policy is still being worked out by JCDA and county legal staff, county commissioners agreed to endorse the concept of reducing the impact fee to a nominal sum in a 4-1 vote. The impact fee will remain at its current level until July 1, when it will be reduced to $1 for a two year period.
Commissioner Lyn Widmyer voted against the policy. She argued it would could leave emergency services underfunded and that it was unfair to residents who will still have to pay the fee.
“There is a grocery list of a half-million dollars in requests from fire and EMS for impact fees,” Widmyer said. “They are hurting. The residential folks will keep paying this fee. And dropping from the equation will be any business support for any impact fee-related funds.”
But Reisenweber argued that commercial impact fees do not generate enough revenue to outweigh the negative effect he argues they have on the local business climate.
“I fully agree with you that the county needs to find a way to fully fund fire and law enforcement in the county,” he said, adding that “it would take … 12 years, at the current rate, to pay for the $500,000 in needs with commercial impact fees.”
He said the positive economic effects of a new business moving into the area would outweigh any lost revenue from the effective suspension of the commercial impact fee.
Reisenweber said Jefferson County – which is the only county in the state with zoning and impact fees – has gained a reputation for not being business-friendly among state economic development officials.
Widmyer said she had not seen evidence of such a reputation.
“Every time I meet a state legislator, whenever I go to any meetings I say, ‘Is that the perception in Charleston?’ and they say, ‘No,’” she said.
Reisenweber said commercial impact fees put Jefferson County at a significant disadvantage vis-a-vis neighboring counties. Only Washington County, Md., has a commercial impact fee right now, he said, adding eliminating the fee will reduce project costs and make the county more competitive with our surrounding jurisdictions.
Reisenweber said impact fees are viewed particularly negatively by businesses who would otherwise be open to paying a fire fee.
“We had a large company looking at coming into the Norm Thompson Building and, at the time, the fee that was proposed by fire and rescue was, I think, 8 cents a square foot on commercial structures,” he said. “That was going to amount to in the neighborhood of $13,000 a year. When I told the consultant on that project, as well as the company officials, they had no problem paying for fire and rescue fees on an annual basis,” said Reisenweber. “What businesses don’t want to see is this add-on that says, ‘We’re going to charge you for coming here.’”