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Third impact fee suit filed in Jefferson Co.

February 09, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The City of Charles Town has sued the Jefferson County Commission over impact fees, arguing that state law prohibits "double taxing" and that the courts should rule that the county cannot collect impact fees for services for which the city is already collecting money.

It is the third lawsuit involving impact fees that has been filed in recent months in Jefferson County.

After city officials said earlier that they might take court action to clarify issues over impact fees, the city filed suit against the commission Feb. 2 in Jefferson County Circuit Court over the fees.

Charles Town City Council member Matt Ward said Wednesday he was not told the city was filing the suit and called the action "a waste of taxpayer resources."

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Impact fees are charged to developers to offset the cost of public services needed because of population growth. The Jefferson County Commission has passed impact fees for schools, police, parks and recreation, and fire and emergency medical services.

In its argument against "double taxing," the city says in the suit that Charles Town already collects charges from new development to help pay for services like parks, and fire and ambulance services. Therefore, the suit asks the court to rule that state law does not allow the county to collect impact fees for those services.

The suit also questions whether the county can charge school impact fees in developments where only senior citizens live.

Developers of the 3,200-home Huntfield development south of the city have argued that they should not have to pay the school impact fee for a senior living community they are planning because the development would not have any children living there.

The county commission later denied the fee waiver for the 821-unit Four Seasons at Huntfield, but the suit says the commission did not address "as a legal principle" whether school impact fees are applicable to senior living communities.

Huntfield developers have already sued the commission over its decision not to give a school impact fee waiver for their senior living community.

In their circuit court suit, which asks the court to reverse the commission's decision, Huntfield officials say impact fees cannot be imposed on a development which does not result in increased demand for public facilities.

City Council member Matt Ward complained Wednesday about not being given a copy of the suit by the city's administration. Ward took issue with the action and said impact fees are needed to make sure developers pay their fair share of public services.

Ward, the only council member to vote against suing the county, said there are some issues regarding funding mechanisms for the city's parks and recreations systems and fire and ambulance that need to be addressed, but Ward said those could have been worked out by meeting with the city's "brothers and sisters" at the county level.

"It's a waste of taxpayer resources," Ward said of the suit.

Mayor Peggy Smith said the city has been trying to work out the issues with the county commission since July. Smith said the city sent about three letters to the county expressing such an interest.

"We have yet to have a response from any letter. We waited all this time," Smith said Wednesday night.

Despite the city's argument that double taxing is not allowed in the city, County Commission President Greg Corliss said Wednesday that impact fees can be collected in municipalities.

"All we wanted to work out is where we have a sharing agreement," Corliss said.

The third circuit court suit over impact fees was filed by the county commission against the City of Ranson, W.Va.

School impact fees went into effect on Jan. 26, 2004, but none of the money collected in Ranson has been forwarded to the county, the county commission said.

The county commission believes that Ranson officials are collecting a school impact fee but are calling it a "voluntary proffer." The county commission complains in its suit that the proffers are not a uniform way to collect the school fee.

Ranson Mayor David Hamill said he does not think his city has the right to deny someone a building permit if an impact fee has not been paid.

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