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Commission plans legal action over unpaid impact fees

March 05, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

The Jefferson County Commission decided Thursday to take legal action after members learned that no school impact fees have been collected for new homes in Charles Town and Ranson, W.Va., since county officials began collecting the fees Jan. 26.

The move touched off a heated response from Ranson Mayor David Hamill, who said he believes the county does not have the ability to charge school impact fees.

"I don't care what the County Commission does. If they want to sue us, let them sue us," said Hamill, who listed concerns he has about the fees and the way county officials have handled other issues over the years.

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Under the law the commissioners passed that implemented impact fees, cities shall not issue a building permit for a home unless an impact fee has been paid to the county, Commissioner James G. Knode said.

In Charles Town, building permits for nine single-family homes and building permits for nine townhouses or duplexes have been approved, said Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Michael Cassell and impact fee coordinator Mark Schiavone.

The new homes should have brought in $114,156 in impact fees for the county, Cassell and Schiavone said.

In Ranson, permits for five single-family homes have been issued and building permits for two townhomes have been issued, Schiavone and Cassell said. Those should have resulted in the collection of $46,734 in impact fees, they said.

No problems have surfaced with the collections in the Jefferson County communities of Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry and Bolivar, Schiavone and Cassell said.

After meeting with the commissioners, Cassell declined to say what type of legal action would be taken.

Cassell would not say whether he or Schiavone had contacted Charles Town or Ranson officials to determine why the impact fees were not collected.

School impact fees are designed to help fund school construction projects demanded by population growth.

Developers must pay $7,122 for every new single-family home and mobile home they put up, $5,562 for every townhouse or duplex and $4,040 for every multi-family dwelling.

County Commission President Al Hooper called the situation "really unfortunate."

While it appeared some money for schools may have been collected through an agreement between the city of Charles Town and the developers of the 3,800-home Huntfield development, no impact fees were collected from Ranson and Charles Town since the county formally began collecting the fees Jan. 26.

"We're really in a tangled web here," Hooper said.

"It's a disappointment to me," Commissioner Greg Corliss said.

Hamill said there is nothing in state laws that says the county can collect a school impact fee.

Hamill said he still is unhappy with how the county dealt with distribution of slot machines revenue from Charles Town Races & Slots about seven years ago.

After slot machines came to the track, 2 percent of slot machines revenue was to go to local government, Hamill said. None of the money was shared with the towns and the state Legislature had to take action to give the towns a cut of the cash, Hamill said.

"We just don't trust them," Hamill said.

"That's the way we feel. Where it leads is where it leads us," said Ranson City Council member Duke Pierson on the possibility of legal action by the County Commission.

Charles Town Mayor Randy Hilton said Thursday he did not realize impact fees were not being forwarded to the county from Charles Town.

Hilton said he was under the assumption that all home builders, including those at the Huntfield development, were cooperating with the impact fee system.

Charles Town Council member John Ward said he also was unaware of any problems.

In January, the Charles Town City Council approved a plan to charge home builders in six developments $9,605 for every new house they build. Huntfield was one of the developments.

In cities, impact fees are referred to as "proffers."

Under the city's proffer plan, the $9,605 proffer amount would include a $7,122 school impact fee.

"As far as I know, it was all set up. I thought everything was going along smooth," Ward said.

Council member Geraldine Willingham declined to comment, saying the situation "is very complicated."

Later Thursday, the city of Charles Town issued a statement saying the city "plans to follow the Jefferson County Commission's lead and fully intends to charge the same amount for schools through legally binding developer's agreements."

Although the school impact fee amount was agreed to by council members in January, the statement issued Thursday said the city is "actively negotiating the county set amount for schools with developers."

A city spokeswoman said Thursday afternoon no city officials would be available to elaborate on the statement.

Jim Duszyski, who has been the local spokesman for the Huntfield project, could not be reached for comment.

Jefferson County Board of Education President Lori Stilley said she was not aware of a problem with the collections in Ranson and Charles Town.

Stilley emphasized how important school impact fees are to the county.

Overcrowding has been a problem in local schools and school officials are working on a comprehensive effort to line up money for a second high school and a renovation to Jefferson High School, a project that is expected to cost $48 million.

"This is about children and their schools," Stilley said.

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