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Impact fee hike is debated at public hearing

October 18, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Professionals associated with Jefferson County's home building industry warned county officials Monday night how proposed increases in school impact fees would affect people's ability - particularly those on limited incomes - to afford housing in the county.

School officials, meanwhile, argued the fee increases are needed to fund school projects because state funds are expected to be limited.

The comments came during a public hearing on a set of proposed increases to the school impact fee being considered by the Jefferson County Commission.

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School impact fees are charged to housing developers to help offset the cost of new school facilities needed because of population growth.

The recommended increases in the fee would bring the amounts to 100 percent of the recommended level for the fees, school officials said.

When the commissioners initially approved school impact fees, they decided to only make the fees 85 percent of the recommended amount, school officials said.

The board of education wants the increase since impact fees passed by the commission for parks and recreation department and police are at 100 percent levels.

Under the plan, the school impact fee would increase from $7,279 to $8,562 for single family homes, increase from $5,685 to $6,686 for townhouses and duplexes and go from $4,129 to $4,858 for each multi-family unit.

Andy Gallagher, executive director of the West Virginia Housing Institute Inc., which represents the factory-built housing industry in the state, said his organization is opposed to the increases.

Young people and the elderly are the primary customers of factory-built housing, but the fee increases will limit the homes that are affordable to those groups, Gallagher said.

Gallagher said the fee also will slow the county's growth rate because people will be more inclined to move to a county that does not charge the fees. Gallagher said the commission has "built a structure for the rich."

Charles Town attorney Peter Chakmakian, who has been involved in affordable housing in the county, said the fee increases would add another $67 to the monthly rent of tenants for every 50-unit apartment complex built.

Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols said the fee increases are vital to pay for a tremendous need in new school facilities. Nichols said he has been told that state funds for new schools will be limited and state officials have told him that he should consider more local bonds to pay for school projects.

"It's the right thing to do," Jefferson County resident Joe Coakley said of the proposed fee increases.

"The alternative, without impact fees, is to increase taxes," said Coakley, adding that he doesn't know of any commission member that would support the latter.

More than $4 million has been generated through school impact fees, which the Jefferson County Board of Education plans to use to help construct a second high school being planned next to the Huntfield development, and a new elementary school, Nichols said.

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