Owners, officials discuss impact fees

WINDER - About 60 business owners and government officials heard the pros and cons of impact fees at a Wednesday breakfast sponsored by the Barrow County Builders Association.

While new businesses and residents bring dollars into Barrow County, they also bring demands on the infrastructure. Tax money helps pay for needed maintenance and improvements, as well as new parks, libraries and jails.

Impact fees help pay for new recreational and law enforcement facilities and infrastructure improvements. Impact fees cause those financial burdens to be shared by the city, county, homebuyer and business owner.

Barrow County does not have impact fees. Hall County, Braselton and Atlanta are the only nearby governments using them.

"We are growing, but we can't keep up with the infrastructure," said Keith Lee, Barrow County's chief administrator. "If we had impact fees, we would not be paying for the infrastructure and operations out of the general fund, just the operations."

Impact fees are a one-time payment usually paid by the builder, who passes the fee on to the buyer in the building's cost.

Impact fees can only be used for capital facilities, such as water supply treatment and distribution, wastewater treatment, stormwater collection, roads, streets, bridges, parks, open space, police, fire, emergency rescue facilities and libraries.

Impact fees do not fund schools.

Money collected can only be used to pay for additional public facilities needed to serve new growth and development.

Impact fees must be kept in separate interest-bearing accounts according to their use and influence on a specific infrastructure. Detailed records must be kept to insure compliance with the refund clause.

It is up to government to spend the money in equal measures around the city or county, rather than concentrating new development in one area.

"Anyone who buys or builds a new house or business would be subject to an impact fee, even if they lived in the community for 60 years," said Columbus attorney Deron Hicks. "Impact fees do not slow or stop growth. When used properly, they change growth by creating the infrastructure that encourages growth."

The fees are calculated by using population projection numbers, level of service standard, area, facility size, project cost and percentage to new growth. A government cannot charge more than $9 per each new resident. A government can charge less, but the difference must be made up.

Barrow County has hired a consultant from Ross and Associates of Atlanta to do a feasibility study.

County Commissioner Bill Brown is learning more about impact fees.

"We have talked about it for a long time," Brown said. "We're talking to other counties to see how it is working for them."

Statham Mayor Robert Bridges is approaching impact fees cautiously.

"We shouldn't jump in before we get a comprehensive plan and 10-year programs in place," Bridges said.