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Officials weigh in on impact fee debate

October 03, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -One of the biggest public debates about impact fees so far came during a Jefferson County Commission meeting Thursday night, when school officials and those associated with the county's housing industry weighed in on the issue.

School officials detailed crowded conditions in schools and warned the commission that the problem "will not disappear," while those associated with the housing industry said people could be driven from the county if the fee is too high.

Impact fees are fees collected from housing developers to help pay for new services needed because of growth. Many people believe the fee will be passed onto home buyers.

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The commissioners are considering an impact fee to help pay for construction of new schools in the county.

After hearing comments from the public about the fees, the commissioners agreed to a tentative plan that includes holding a public hearing on the impact fee proposal on Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. and having a final vote on their proposed impact fee ordinance Nov. 6. The fees, if approved, would go into effect Jan. 6, according to the plan, which was proposed by Commissioner Greg Corliss.

Corliss also wanted the commissioners to tentatively vote on impact fee amounts for different forms of housing, but the effort failed.

The commissioners decided to hold off on the impact fee amounts until they further study the issue.

Corliss wanted the commissioners to tentatively agree to an impact fee of $8,378 for every single-family home.

Jefferson County Schools Superintendent R. Steven Nichols told the commissioners he needs help with the county's growing student population.

Jefferson High School's population is about 1,600 students but the school's core areas such as the cafeteria only are designed to handle about 890 students, Nichols said. Charles Town Middle School has 850 students, but only is designed for 300, Nichols said.

"The current overcrowding will not disappear," Nichols said.

Other people associated with the school system accompanied Nichols, including Rodney Snyder, principal of Page Jackson Elementary School.

Snyder said driving by the 3,800-home Huntfield development, which is under construction just south of Charles Town along U.S. 340, shows what the county is facing.

"The impact is here today," Snyder said.

Housing representatives, however, said the county could end up with more problems if the impact fee law is not crafted properly.

If impact fees are too high, it could cause voters to reject a proposed $19 million school bond issue that school officials are planning to put on the primary election ballot next May, said attorney Richard Gay, who is representing those affiliated with the county's housing industry.

Voters also could call for a referendum to challenge the impact fee law if they do not agree with it, Gay said.

"We certainly don't want to be like California," said Gay, referring to next week's recall election in California.

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