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Impact fee debate heats up at Charles Town council meeting

January 18, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Charles Town City Council members and Jefferson County Schools officials engaged in a heated discussion Tuesday night over school impact fees and the city's decision to possibly head to court over the matter.

Jefferson County Board of Education President Lori Stilley said city council members have been discussing school impact fees, but not including the board in the discussion.

Stilley said she also is concerned about the city council voting recently to seek a court opinion involving the collection of impact fees.

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The council voted last month to possibly seek an opinion in Jefferson County Circuit Court on whether the city should issue building permits to housing developers who do not pay school impact fees.

The issue revolved around senior living communities.

Councilman Matt Ward said Tuesday night that the issue is moot since the Jefferson County Commission already has ruled that the developers of the Huntfield community could not have a waiver on school impact fees for a senior community they are proposing.

Huntfield developers were seeking a school impact fee waiver for the 821-home Four Seasons at Huntfield development, which would have amounted to about a $6 million break in the school fees.

Even though Ward said the issue now is moot, Mayor Peggy Smith reiterated a previous stance of the council: The city has questions about collection of impact fees and the city is prepared to go to court over the issue if those questions are not answered by Feb. 4.

Ward said after the meeting he fears a court opinion on the matter could reopen the matter about whether Huntfield needs to pay impact fees for its senior community.

Stilley said the city has been "acting independently" on the school impact fee issue, and she said Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols called City Manager Jane Arnett seven times one day to get information about the situation and none of the phone calls were returned.

"The way we're all behaving now is not helping children," Nichols said.

City Councilman Randy Breeden, who pounded his hands on the council table at times, questioned where Stilley got her information.

Breeden brought up issues of his own, saying the city has not had any input on issues surrounding the county's second high school, which is being built in the city next to Huntfield.

Later in the meeting, the council voted to send a Freedom of Information request to Jefferson County Schools to obtain information about the high school.

"You guys are making Charles Town out to be the bad guys," Breeden told Stilley and Nichols.

At one point, the issue of whether Huntfield should get a break on school impact fees was before city council, but council members decided that the county commission should decide the issue.

The commission voted a little more than three weeks ago to deny the waiver request.

Stilley asked council members not to go to court over the impact fee issue. Ward made a motion that any court opinion involving impact fee collections not involve the school impact fee system.

The county has other impact fees for services such as police.

Ward's motion did not get a second.

"You voted to send it back to the county commission and now you're not happy with the decision," Stilley said.

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