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Man trying to challenge impact fees

December 10, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Saying impact fees are a "bad, bad way" to collect money for new schools in Jefferson County, a local businessman is trying to collect enough signatures to put the issue up for a county-wide vote.

Under the state law that allows impact fees, 15 percent of the county's registered voters can petition the Jefferson County Commission to put the issue up for a referendum.

The commissioners, who passed impact fees Nov. 24, have said 15 percent of Jefferson County's voters equals about 3,667 people.

Paul Ashbaugh, who has been involved in home building and building lot sales in the county, said he wants impact fees to be placed on a referendum because he is concerned how they will affect home builders and people's ability to purchase homes.

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Ashbaugh said it is not fair that someone who wants to purchase a mobile home in the county will have to pay the same $7,122 impact fee as someone who purchases a single-family home.

Although impact fees are paid by developers, most agree the fees will be passed onto home buyers in the form of higher house prices.

"That's why I have a problem with it. It's going to hurt the poor. This is a bad, bad way to go," Ashbaugh said.

Impact fees are designed to help pay for additional services needed because of growth. Although the commissioners initially considered funding a variety of services with the fees, they decided the monies only would be used to help fund new school construction.

Ashbaugh said he has been circulating a proposed impact fee petition at various locations in the county, including convenience stores and the Wal-Mart along U.S. 340 east of Charles Town. He said he has gathered about 400 signatures since starting his campaign last Friday and he plans to continue circulating the form "day and night."

County residents have 45 days from the date the commissioners pass the fees to compile petitions, Commission President Jane Tabb said Tuesday.

If a petition is presented, County Clerk John Ott has told the commissioners that his staff would have to compare each signature with a signature on a correlating voter registration card, Tabb said.

The process would take "at least two weeks," Tabb said.

Ashbaugh's proposed petition says "Notice: New Tax. $7,122 for Mobile Homes and Single Family Homes."

The form also includes an "impact fee fact sheet," which claims that the fees will increase the closing costs on a new home and increase some homeowners' house payments by about $45 per month.

The fact sheet also claims that impact fees cannot be used to build a second high school, which school officials say is not true.

Each petition form contains space for five signatures, and the name, address and phone number of each signee. Signees are asked on the sheet to return the form to Citizens 4 Affordable Housing - Paul Ashbaugh, Route 1, Box 900, Harpers Ferry.

Although he needs about 3,667 signatures to put the issue on the ballot, Ashbaugh said he hopes to obtain 6,000 to 7,000.

Ashbaugh said he wants to obtain plenty of signatures because he believes some will not be registered voters. His petition includes a voter registration card on the back in case signees need it.

County officials took the referendum attempt in stride Tuesday, saying it is Ashbaugh's right to circulate the petitions.

County Commissioner Greg Corliss, however, emphasized that impact fees are a serious issue because they are an integral part of a comprehensive effort to get the Jefferson County school system the money it needs for new facilities.

One reason Jefferson County Board of Education members pushed for impact fees is because they said county residents have stated they will not support a proposed school construction bond issue unless impact fees are passed.

During the May 11, 2004, primary election, county voters will be asked to approve a $19 million bond issue that will be used to help build a second high school.

Corliss said he doubts Ashbaugh will be able to get enough signatures to put impact fees up for a referendum and Board of Education President Lori Stilley said parents have called her expressing concern about the referendum attempt.

"We have had enough people speak that they want impact fees. People are ready to move forward," Stilley said.

The commissioners plan to start collecting impact fees Jan. 26, 2004. If voters decide to have a referendum, collection of impact fees will have to be postponed until the election can be conducted, Stilley said.

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