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Jefferson County impact fees have generated $14 million since 2004

June 12, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Build a house, help fund public services.

The Jefferson County Commission's push to insert a fee into the process of building a home in Jefferson County to pay for public services has generated nearly $14 million since the collection of so-called "impact fees" started in 2004.

The term refers to the impact that a new home creates on the county. The home brings more people into the county, creating an impact on demand for public services, said Mark Schiavone, the county's impact fee coordinator.

So far, it's the only system of its kind in West Virginia, he said.

When someone applies for a building permit from the county to construct a house, the builder must pay an impact fee of $13,070.

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The impact fee is designed to help pay for the additional services, with each fee setting aside $11,385 for schools, $752 for parks and recreation, $698 for fire departments and emergency medical services, and $262 for law enforcement.

Impact fees for town houses and duplexes are $9,868 and the fee for each multi-family unit is $7,594.

New commercial projects also contribute to the law enforcement and fire department and emergency medical services impact fee through a formula based on the square footage of the facilities and the amount of traffic expected to be generated, Schiavone said.

Of the nearly $10 million that has been awarded or is about to be awarded to Jefferson County Schools, about $6.6 million was used to help build the county's second high school - Washington High School - along the Charles Town Bypass south of downtown, Schiavone said. Another $3.3 million is expected to be released this year to help pay for a proposed new $10 million elementary school to be built near the Breckenridge subdivision north of Charles Town.

The $3.3 million for the new elementary school is significant because if impact fees had not existed, the school system would have been forced to run a bond election for the money. In other words, taxpayers would be paying the tab if the bond would have passed, according to Schiavone and Pete Dougherty, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education.

Even with the $3.3 million that is expected to be forwarded for the new elementary school, there will be about $3 million still in the account to continue building schools for a growing student population, Dougherty said.

Dougherty said a downside of impact fees is that they make homes more expensive for first-time homebuyers. "But from the greater taxpayer point of view," the fees make it easier on the average pocketbook, according to Dougherty.

Dougherty praised the county commissioners for working to pass impact fees and "remaining steadfast" in implementing the program.

Among the points argued by critics of impact fees is there is already a state system for funding school construction and that working class and low-income people would eventually rise up against the fees over their effect on increasing home prices.

Impact fees generated $88,000 for Jefferson County Parks and Recreation to expand playground equipment at Sam Michael's Park and to buy new exercise equipment for a community center there, said Tim Barr, director of the county's park program.

This year, Jefferson County Parks and Recreation is expected to receive $377,000 for land acquisition, $35,000 for lighting along a road leading to the Sam Michael's Park community center and $42,000 to install about a three-quarter mile paved walking path at the park, according to Barr and Schiavone.

Barr said it is important to expand recreational facilities for the growing county, and the park system is interested in buying land along the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers for recreation.

"It's been a fantastic source of capital improvement revenue for us," Barr said of impact fees.

About $55,000 has been spent to expand the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department's cruiser fleet, and another $80,000 is expected to be released this year to buy more squad cars, Schiavone said.

The $80,000 allocation is important given the commission did not allocate any money for new cruisers this year, Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober said.

"We're driving several cars with over 100,000 miles. We shouldn't be driving cars with that many miles," Boober said.

Other impact fee funding distributions expected this year include $100,000 for a new volunteer fire department in Bakerton, $135,000 for a new Jefferson County Ambulance Authority ambulance and $60,000 for new equipment for the Friendship Fire Co. in Harpers Ferry, Schiavone said.

Although the impact fee program has flourished, Schiavone said he tracks the downturn in the housing market and how it could affect the fees.

It is possible that if the housing market downturn continues long enough, the county might not collect enough money to "meaningfully" spend, Schiavone said. Those are issues that will have to be carefully examined as the downturn plays itself out, Schiavone said.

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