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Impact fees get court challenges

January 27, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Jefferson County's impact fee system is headed to court in two separate lawsuits.

In one lawsuit filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court, the Jefferson County Commission is suing the City of Ranson, W.Va., over the collection of the fees, an issue that has been simmering more than two years.

In the second lawsuit filed in circuit court, the owner of the 3,200-home Huntfield development south of Charles Town is suing the county commission over its Dec. 22 decision not to waive about $6 million in school impact fees for a senior living community there.

Impact fees are collected from developers to help pay for new public services needed because of population growth.

The commission has passed impact fees for schools, emergency services, parks and recreation, and police.

School impact fees went into effect Jan. 26, 2004, and none of the school money that has been collected in Ranson has been forwarded to the county, Commission member Jane Tabb said.

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The way Ranson Mayor David Hamill sees it, the money has not been accepted by the county.

Commission President Greg Corliss said earlier that the county and Ranson had reached a proposed agreement but county officials believed it would not have complied with state law.

While Hamill agreed at the time with Corliss' assessment of the situation, he said it is not something Ranson wanted to drag out.

In its suit against Ranson, the commission says impact fees shall be collected before the issuance of a building permit, including building permits issued by cities.

The suit alleges that about 70 building permits have been issued by Ranson officials without the school impact fee first being paid to the county, and that Ranson officials are collecting an impact fee, but are calling it a "voluntary proffer," the suit said.

County officials said in the suit they are unaware of any land-use laws in Ranson that permit voluntary proffers.

"Voluntary proffers are negotiated based upon a written offer of a landowner, not assessed routinely on a uniform schedule of fees. Thus, voluntary proffers are by their nature not uniform," the suit states.

The commission also believes that Ranson refuses to require that building permit applications include proof that the county's fire and emergency medical services impact fee and the county's parks and recreation impact fee have been paid before a building permit has been issued, the suit states.

Hamill said Thursday he feels "devastated" over the county's suit and said he thought the sides were in the process of working out their differences.

"I thought we had reached a point of mutual understanding," Hamill said.

One of Ranson's main issues is the city does not believe it has the right to deny someone a building permit if an impact fee has not been paid, Hamill said.

Hamill said the city has collected a school impact fee for the 69 permits and that about $700,000 has been collected.

Hamill said the county will not accept the $700,000 because the money has not been collected the way the commission wants.

"I'm embarrassed for the citizens who have had to tolerate this," Hamill said.

The suit is asking that the court rule that Ranson must not issue building permits until impact fees have been paid.

The second suit revolves around Huntfield's request that the development not be required to pay the school impact fee for an 821-home senior living community in Huntfield which would be known as Four Seasons at Huntfield.

Huntfield officials have said they do not believe they should be required to pay the school impact fee because people living in the community will have to be at least 55 years old and because no children will be allowed to live in the homes.

Members of the commission denied the waiver request because they could not see how the subdivision's covenants controlling the age of people living there and the child restriction could be enforced.

In their suit, which asks the court to reverse the commission's decision, Huntfield officials say no impact fee can be imposed on a development which does not result increased demand for public facilities.

In the suit, Huntfield officials say the commission's decision was "arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of its discretion, plainly wrong and contrary" to state land county laws.

Commission member Dale Manuel declined to comment Thursday on the suit.

"The Huntfield suit came as no surprise to me," Tabb said.

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