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County considers impact fees for new developments

February 09, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

A report paid for by the Washington County Commissioners recommends imposing school impact fees on new developments in every Washington County high school district except Hancock.

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The commissioners are scheduled to hear a presentation at a meeting today on the five-part written study by Tischler and Associates, Inc. of Bethesda, Md.

The report suggests imposing a fee on new developments in the Clear Spring, Williamsport, North Hagerstown, South Hagerstown, Boonsboro and Smithsburg high school districts.

The proposed fee would pay for construction, including additions and expansions, on elementary schools in those districts.

Each of those districts except Smithsburg contains elementary schools with enrollment exceeding what the state considers capacity. Money collected in one district would have to be spent in that district.

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Hancock is exempt from the proposal because overall enrollment is expected to drop.

When he was chairman of the Washington County Planning Commission, Bert L. Iseminger urged the County Commissioners to consider imposing impact fees.

Iseminger, who is now a County Commissioner, said last week he wants to read the report and hear the presentation before expressing opinions on the recommendations.

In phone interviews, the other four commissioners said it was too early to endorse or discount any of the suggestions.

The study says the County Commissioners also should consider impact fees to pay for public works equipment and public safety needs.

The report does not recommend a specific impact fee amount for each of those three fee possibilities, but rather lists the maximum legal amount.

In January 1998 the County Commissioners voted to pay $115,000 for the consultant's study, which calculates the costs of growth for the county and recommends new fees or taxes to help offset those costs. A $40,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission has reduced the county's share to $75,000.

The study also examines the idea of establishing a special assessment district, the Hopewell Road Economic Development Area, to pay for road improvements in the 1,800-acre Hopewell area. The report says that such a district is legal and could help pay for improvements in that region.

The report also serves as the foundation for an update of the county's comprehensive plan, which is used to prepare for changes in the county, said Washington County Planning Director Robert Arch.

Impact fees, which are in place in 10 Maryland counties, including Frederick and Carroll counties, require new development to pay for the costs of new roads, schools and services required to serve that development.

Tischler and Associates has done similar studies and reports in about 95 percent of the Maryland counties that now have impact fees, said Carson Bise, who co-wrote the report.

The school impact fees in Frederick and Carroll counties are higher then the maximum impact fee in Washington County because those counties are experiencing faster growth, Arch said.

In both counties, the fee is assessed countywide. The Carroll County fee also pays for parks.

Frederick County increased its impact fee by 50 percent in July 1998. The county received about $2.8 million annually under the old fee rates but expects to get about $4 million this fiscal year, Frederick County Planning Director James Shaw said.

Carroll County projects it will receive $3.28 million for schools and $427,000 for parks from its impact fees this year, a county spokeswoman said.

The report says public works equipment can be paid for with impact fees, ranging from $41 for a mobile home to $428 for a commercial shopping center of less than 25,000 square feet.

If impact fees for public works capital improvement purchases are adopted, the county Highway User revenue would pay for road resurfacing projects, the report says. Money from the user fee, more commonly known as the gas tax, now pays for both road resurfacing and equipment purchases.

The consultant also suggests using impact fees to pay for replacing Washington County Sheriff Department and Washington County Detention Center vehicles. The maximum fees range from $4 for manufacturing plants to $152 for a townhouse.

The fiscal impact report says that the county is in relatively good shape for the immediate future, based on the current level of services, Arch said.

The consultants acknowledge in the report that just because something makes financial sense does not mean it is right philosophically, he said.

The Maryland General Assembly voted in 1990 to give the county authority to impose impact fees after a three-year fight led by then-Commissioners President Ronald L. Bowers. Housing developers lobbied hard against impact fees.

While they passed an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, the commissioners did not adopt an impact fee.

The ordinance requires developers to provide information showing adequate road, water, sewage and schools capacity before a project can be approved. The developer must make contributions toward any needed improvement.

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