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Impact fee issue would benefit from compromise

March 22, 2001

Impact fee issue would benefit from compromise



Cash-starved counties trying to deal with new residential growth would have another funding tool under an amendment to West Virginia's Local Powers Act approved this week by the House Political Subdivisions Committee.

The problem some lawmakers see is that in exchange for future revenues, they'd have to accept a building code that would apply to existing construction as well as new homes. There is a reasonable compromise for that, however.

First, some background: The Local Powers Act, passed in 1990, would allow counties to charge fees to new home buyers, to offset the impact of their arrival on government facilities like sewer, water, schools and roads and on services like fire/rescue and police.

To trigger the act, however, counties must have zoning and building codes that apply countywide. Berkeley County lacks zoning, while nearby Jefferson County needs the building code.

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But Del. John Doyle said that if his county passes a building code, it would have to apply retroactively. Doyle said that would "cause the housing police to knock on people's doors every couple of years."

For people on low or fixed incomes, the prospect of having to pay for extensive repairs to their properties might make it impossible for them to stay in their homes, unless of course a compromise is found.

One possibility is a program that's been used in Hagerstown that has government loan the homeowner cash for the repair, but not seek repayment until the home is sold. This program is voluntary, however. A mandatory program would outstrip government's ability to fund such repairs.

A better possibility might be to amend the Local Powers Act again to exempt existing properties from the building code until they're sold. New owners couldn't occupy the property without an inspection and within a generation, everything would be up to code. Lawmakers who know how tough it is for their constituents to make ends meet shouldn't have a problem with this small concession.

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