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Council approves fees on new homes

December 15, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The City Council on Tuesday narrowly adopted a measure that will raise $8,500 in fees on every new home to pay for school construction and improvements.

The so-called Interim School Impact Policy was approved by a 3-2 vote during a special voting session Tuesday night.

The fees must be paid at the time a building permit is issued, but the total fee will be somewhat less than $8,500 because the county excise tax collected on new construction is included in the amount.

The policy is scheduled to expire July 1, 2005, when city officials expect a more permanent law to be in place. City and county officials will work with the General Assembly to set in place a school construction impact fee.

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Council members Kristin B. Aleshire and Penny M. Nigh voted against the fee after city officials recommended that the Gateway Crossing public housing project in the city's West End be exempt from the fee.

Council members N. Linn Hendershot, Lewis C. Metzner and Carol N. Moller voted to approve the policy.

Hagerstown Housing Authority Executive Director Ted Shankle said the housing authority would not be able to pay the expected $723,000 that would be levied on 85 homes that have not yet been built.

Shankle said the housing project, when complete, will contain 354 homes, about 100 more homes that was in the housing project that was razed to make room for the new project combined with some private homes that were purchased, demolished and replaced.

Shankle said, the project faces financial restrictions because some of it is being paid for with federal money and it is too late in the process to obtain more money.

Shankle said the city promised years ago it would not levy fees such as the one in the policy discussed Tuesday, and the financiers of the project have already been hit with about $350,000 in unexpected excise taxes from the county. That money was set aside for schools.

Shankle said the city levying the fees would mean the project would include fewer new homes.

After questioning city staff and Shankle about the plans, Aleshire said it would be "completely wrong" to exempt the housing project from the fee.

Metzner said, however, that while it's an imperfect plan, it is right to let the housing project slide on the fee.

"We're immediately attempting to put a Band-Aid on a bleeding artery," Metzner said of the school fees, but the city is better off with the project than without it.

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