CHARLES TOWN – The fees developers pay to build new homes and businesses in Jefferson County could change, as county commissioners consider a study updating the one-time payments.
Jefferson County Commissioners at a May 28 work session debated the idea of lowering the impact fees developers pay the county to offset the cost of providing parks and recreation, fire and rescue, law enforcement and schools to the residents of new housing and new businesses.
Last year, commissioners voted to reduce the commercial impact fees to $1 for a period of 24 months, in hopes of attracting businesses.
The Jefferson County Development Authority argued that businesses are locating in surrounding counties, where no commercial impact fee is charged. JCDA officials said the amount of money collected from commercial impact fees doesn’t compensate for the amount of business development the county loses.
The reduction in fees seems to be working.
“It does seem like we’re starting to see an uptick in businesses,” said John Reisenweber, the authority’s director. “Anything we can do to reduce costs will help. People want to live here if the cost of housing and cost of getting a business located here is low.”
According to the new study, prepared by consultants TishchlerBise of Bethesda, Md., the maximum amount the county should charge in impact fees for commercial space is $399 for law enforcement and $669 for fire and rescue.
Fees are not charged for parks and recreation or schools because these services are not affected by business development.
The maximum amount the county should charge in impact fees for office and institutional space is $156 for law enforcement and $1,110 for fire and rescue, according to the study.
For a business park, the maximum amount is $176 for law enforcement and $1,030 for fire and rescue. For light industrial, the maximum amount is $98 for law enforcement and $772 for fire and rescue. For warehousing, the maximum amount is $50 for law enforcement and $306 for fire and rescue. Finally, the maximum amount for manufacturing is $54 for law enforcement and $600 for fire and rescue.
The fees were derived through methodologies, determining levels of service and costs for planned capital projects, the study says. Commissioners can adopt fees lower than these amounts, but that will result in a decrease in revenue.
This elicited a debate among commissioners.
Said Commission President Walt Pellish: “We’re at a stage right now, this is only my opinion, where we need more rooftops, we need more businesses, we need more revenue, because we have serious budget considerations and the only way we’re going to be able to begin to get more revenue is if we get more businesses, and more people are coming in who are going to become taxpayers.”
Pellish said impact fees discourage growth.
“From my point, and I speak only as an individual, I think impact fees are good and we need to keep them in some form, but I am convinced they are discouraging growth,” he said. “They are too high and they are not fair to people. They are preventing this county from moving forward and growing the way it needs to grow. I’d like to find another way to reduce them.”
Commissioner Lyn Widmyer disagreed.
“If we reduce impact fees to businesses, we’re reducing their contribution to (Emergency Medical Services), fire and law enforcement,” she said. “That’s what we’re doing. And it is not rational to me that a new business would want to come in without knowing that EMS and law enforcement services are going to adequate.”
Reisenweber said businesses want to do their part.
“We’re not hearing from any business that they are not wanting to their fair share,” he said. “But it needs to be responsible and it needs to be fair.”
Builders of new homes also pay impact fees when they obtain building permits. But builders forced to pay the higher fees typically simply pass on the added costs to the homebuyer.
For a single-family home, the current fee is $752 for parks and recreation, $262 for law enforcement and $698 for fire and rescue. On a townhouse or duplex, the fee is $575 for parks and recreation, $200 for law enforcement and $533 for fire and rescue.
According to the study, the maximum amount of impact fees the county should charge for a combined single-family home, town house and mobile home is $721 for parks and recreation, $242 for law enforcement and $778 for fire rescue.
For a duplex, the highest amount feasible should be $530 for parks and recreation, $178 for law enforcement and $572 for fire and rescue. And for apartments and condominiums, the highest amount is $530 for parks and recreation, $178 for law enforcement and $572 for fire and rescue.
Finally, the current impact fees for new schools is $11,358 for single-family homes, $8,560 for townhouses and duplexes and $6,306 for apartments and condominiums.
According to the study, the proposed maximum amount is a combined $9,725 for single-family homes, townhouses and mobile homes, $8,133 for duplex homes and $6,306 for apartments and condominiums.
Commissioner Dale Manuel said the revenue generated from impact fees allows schools to be built without the county turning to bond financing.
“Without impact fees it’s going to be a burden shared by all of us, and you’re going to have to go the bonding route,” he said. “And that comes back to every Jefferson County taxpayer.”
Pellish was unswayed. “Frankly, I think that is where it belongs,” he said.
Before commissioners could alter impact fees, a public hearing must be held, they said.