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Jefferson County Commission considers fee system

January 11, 2001

Jefferson County Commission considers fee system



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Two advocates of controlled growth in Jefferson County suggested Thursday that the Jefferson County Commission consider a fee system to pay for public services that is simpler than impact fees.

Paul Burke and Vicki Faulkner said the fee system they have been studying is already allowable under state law.

County officials from across the Eastern Panhandle have been wading through a complex set of requirements needed to implement impact fees, and must wait for some legislative changes before they can implement the fees.

About a dozen developers, home builders and other people associated with the building field showed up at the commission meeting Thursday to hear Burke and Faulkner's proposal.

Those who spoke were strongly opposed to the idea, and one called it "absolutely oppressive."

Burke and Faulkner's proposal would require housing developers to pay "provisions" for each lot they subdivide. It would be up to the commission to decide what kind of provisions they would require from developers.

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There could be provisions to help pay for schools, fire and ambulance service, libraries, parks or public schools, according to their proposal.

The amount of the provision would be based on the total assets of a public service, according to Burke. Burke used the example of the county's five fire companies. Together, the five companies own about $15 million worth of engines, equipment, land and buildings, Burke said. That works out to about $1,000 per home in the county, he said.

Under the proposal, developers could be required to pay $1,000 for each lot they create to help pay for new fire services needed to offset population growth.

Regardless of whether the commission enacts such a plan, the reality is someone is going to have to pay for the increased services as the county grows, Burke told the commission.

"This puts the cost where I believe it belongs," he said.

Developers complained that Burke's fee proposal is just another attempt to place a building moratorium in the county. Last year, Burke suggested a building moratorium - which the commissioners later rejected - after the 3,300-home Hunt Field development was proposed for southern Jefferson County.

Local developer Ken Lowe said Burke's proposal would be unfair because it would require fees from developers who subdivide land. If a builder constructs a house on a lot that has already been subdivided by someone else, he would not have to pay the fee, Lowe said.

Lowe also objected to a developer being required to pay the fee before a house on a lot is sold. That is like the Internal Revenue Service requiring people to pay their income tax before they have earned their income.

"Think about if they did that to you," Lowe told the commission.

The commission did not take any action on the proposal, and one of them - Commissioner James K. Ruland - said the county really needs to concentrate on implementing the Local Powers Act.

The Local Powers Act is the law that allows counties to pass impact fees, which are fees charged to developers to help them pay for services like schools, fire and police protection, and other services.

Commissioner Jane Tabb said it appears Burke's proposed fee and impact fees are almost identical. To implement impact fees, counties must have zoning, building codes and a capital improvements plan. Jefferson County has zoning and is working on a capital improvements plan and building codes.

Jefferson County only wants to enforce building codes on new buildings, not existing ones. To do that, the Local Powers Act law must be changed in the Legislature.

In addition to all of the work that has to be done to implement impact fees, local officials have often complained that the Local Powers Act is complex and hard to implement.

Despite the complexities, Ruland said he is confident the county is getting closer to being able to have new authority under the Local Powers Act.

State lawmakers have pledged to get started early making changes to the Local Powers Act when the West Virginia Legislature convenes next month, and volunteers in the county have been working hard to put together a capital improvements plan, Ruland said.

"We can see the finish line coming," he said.

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