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Panel: Limit use of impact fees

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County should not charge developers impact fees for transportation and parks, a study committee determined Monday.

The committee has also discounted police precincts and water, sewer and stormwater projects, leaving only libraries, fire stations and the county jail as possible recipients of the fees.

Because of a strict Georgia law that mandates a fee structure detailing levels of service, districts and other issues, the majority of the body said transportation fees would not raise enough money to make the process worth it.

"This is the black hole. We can take money from SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax). We can take from service fees. We can take from the general fund and we still wouldn't have enough," Duluth Mayor Pro Tem Doug Mundrick, a member of the committee, said. "But I don't know that I'd want to play with it."

Despite traffic often being listed as the No. 1 issue in growing Gwinnett County, almost all of the members said they'd rather trust the sales tax, which has $162 million allocated in the current program.

The same issues were mentioned with parks and recreation, especially in dealing with Gwinnett's 15 cities. Because of trends in other areas, many people believe that developers will choose to have land annexed into cities instead of paying the fees, unless the cities also impose the charges.

"This is one I believe is too fraught in peril with all these issues," said Mike Levengood, a committee member who is vice-chairman of the Gwinnett Parks Foundation.

Homeowner advocate Bob Griggs cast the lone dissenting vote on both the transportation and parks matters.

"I think that's short-sighted. It's too big a topic to put off like that," he said.

"What we're talking about is a different way to generate capital costs," he said of the fees. "The big question in my mind is who pays."

Last year, commissioners charged the study committee to give a recommendation as to the fees, which are becoming popular in growing suburbs. They force newcomers to pay for infrastructure needed to handle the larger population.

The group is asking for an extended deadline and members are hoping to finish recommendations by the end of the year.

Mundrick has proposed a slow approach to the committee, starting with some functions that are easiest and most logical to tackle. But so far, the committee hasn't voted in favor of impact fees in a single category, only choosing which ones not to consider. The three remaining categories, which got some support Monday, are libraries, fire stations and the county jail.