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Impact fees hearing draws a crowd in Jefferson County

October 24, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - People associated with Jefferson County's home building industry warned Thursday night that setting a school impact fee too high in the county could cause a "meltdown" in the real estate business, while supporters of the fees said the issue is really about "adult responsibility" and building a sound public education system.

The comments came during a public hearing at Wright Denny Intermediate School to discuss the Jefferson County Commission's proposal to charge school impact fees for every new house constructed in the county.

About 70 people came to the hearing.

Schools face overcrowded conditions due to population growth and supporters of the fees say they are an important part of a plan to generate more funding for new schools.

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The commissioners tentatively have agreed to an impact fee of $7,121 for every single-family home built in the county.

The Bethesda, Md.-based firm of Tischler and Associates, which was hired by the county to develop an impact fee system, has recommended that the county charge an impact fee of about $8,300 for every single-family home.

Business people associated with the home building industry expressed concerns about the fees, particularly how they would affect people's ability to purchase affordable housing.

People who buy a $200,000 home could afford the impact fee, but people buying an affordable home would be hard pressed to pay it, some speakers said.

Many who spoke agree that the fees would be passed onto consumers when they purchase a home.

Ted Viands said he cannot imagine the county charging an impact fee of about $7,000 for a family purchasing a $12,000 mobile home.

"What I see here is an uncaring attitude. The whole thing is inequitable," Viands said.

Patricia Sanderson, who is involved in custom home building in the county, said it is unfair for school construction costs to be picked up by new county residents.

Some developers said the fee was too high, a situation that could force people to buy homes elsewhere, Sanderson said.

"This is a serious matter," said Sanderson, saying the real estate industry could face a "meltdown" if the fees are too high.

Supporters of the fees asked the commissioners to consider what is happening in the schools.

School officials have said all schools are overcrowded and Jefferson High School is often used to illustrate the point. The school was designed for 1,200 students but has about 1,600.

"Let's talk about the first-grader in a trailer," said Tom Trumble. Not only may the student be in a trailer, but the heat may be malfunctioning, Trumble said.

Trumble said he just heard of an incident recently in which a janitor's foot slipped through a hole in the floor of a trailer being used as a classroom.

Grant Prillaman said he wanted the commission to pass the full impact fee amount recommended by Tischler and Associates.

"To do otherwise would be a disservice to the children of this county," Prillaman said.

"It's as obvious as the noses on our faces," parent Russell Geiman said of the overcrowding at Jefferson High School. "We have to do something with it."

County resident Richard Latterell said developers either think impact fees are wrong or they are too high.

In other words, the most affluent segment of the county is operating "on the cheap. They simply don't want to pay their way," Latterell said.

Latterell said impact fees are really about "adult responsibility."

The commissioners said they were not anticipating taking action during the public hearing.

The commissioners are scheduled to vote on impact fees Nov. 6, although that could change depending on what people said at the public hearing, said Commission President Jane Tabb.

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