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Impact fees focus of meeting

January 23, 2001

Impact fees focus of meeting



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A cross-section of officials including school board members, county commissioners, state lawmakers and representatives from the governor's office and Congress met Tuesday night to assess the Eastern Panhandle's growth needs.

Much of the discussion at the Jefferson County Board of Education office was focused on how to help counties implement impact fees, which are fees collected from developers to help pay for services like new schools, fire and police protection and other services.

Much of the struggle to get impact fees has centered around what is called the Local Powers Act, a piece of legislation the state passed about 10 years ago to allow counties to implement the fees.

But the regulations counties must abide by under the Local Powers Act are complex, and some have suggested that they were probably designed that way so counties would not have the fund-raising capabilities.

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One of the proposals discussed Tuesday night was bypassing the Local Powers Act and giving the Board of Education the authority to enact impact fees immediately.

Although state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said he has had difficulty passing alternative funding formulas for Eastern Panhandle counties, it's an idea he would be willing to consider.

"We will work for you. You are the guys that are wrestling with these problems, and you know them intimately," said Snyder.

If getting impact fees through the Local Powers Act remains the focus, state lawmakers say they will look to change a number of requirements in the act to make a fee system simpler.

Among the requirements under the Local Powers Act is that the county have building codes. Jefferson County only wants to enforce codes on new buildings, not existing ones. To allow for that, language in the Local Powers Act must be changed.

Another requirement that poses problems for local governments is that any money raised through impact fees must be spent within six years. Board of Education member Pete Dougherty said there is no way the school system can do long-range planning and building projects if the school system only has six years to spend the money.

There was debate about whether impact fees were the best way for the county to raise revenue.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said he is concerned that if a $3,000 impact fee is included in the price of a house, it will make housing too expensive for some families in the county.

Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, said the additional $3,000 probably would not hurt a home buyer's pocketbook because the money would be spread over the life of a mortgage.

Unger argued it would still make housing too expensive for some people, especially those relying on $9-an-hour jobs in the area.

"If they have those kinds of jobs, no way are they going to be able to afford it. Forget it, they're not going to be new homeowners," said Unger.

Unger said he was not against impact fees, but suggested there could be other ways to raise money, such as changing the way income tax revenue is distributed.

Unger suggested the state determine how much income tax is currently being generated from the Eastern Panhandle counties. As the counties grow in population and their share of income tax revenue to the state increases, a percentage of that could be reserved for the counties, Unger said.

About 50 people attended the meeting, including representatives from the offices of Gov. Bob Wise and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.

Rob Steptoe, Capito's district representative, said the congresswoman is interested in growth issues facing local counties.

"Shelley Moore Capito is very aware of the situation here and she will be in the area often," Steptoe said.

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