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Impact fee is bad for business, chamber official says

LAWRENCEVILLE - At a time when Gwinnett is trying to lure more high-paying jobs to the county, a Chamber of Commerce official said impact fees will only hinder the effort.

Scott Morris, who heads economic development efforts for the chamber, told a committee studying the developer fees that he agreed with the philosophical reasons of making newcomers pay for infrastructure needs they create.

But he said the idea doesn't make practical sense in today's business environment.

"Business creates the most net positive revenue for the community," he said. "We tend to focus on mostly the negative, not weighing out the positive."

In Gwinnett, businesses create more tax revenue than the amount of money it takes to serve them, while homeowners pay less taxes than the cost to serve them.

According to a county study conducted last year, the county pays $1.12 in service costs for every $1 that comes from residential property tax but only 80 cents for every dollar in commercial taxes.

Morris said the county should take more proactive approaches to increasing the tax base, instead of creating a new revenue stream that acts as a negative in business recruitment.

After years of simply allowing the market to bring new businesses to Gwinnett, officials agreed earlier this year to give tax breaks and other incentives to draw certain industries to the county. County economic development director Alfie Meek, who is the staff liaison for the impact fee committee, has said Gwinnett was never given an opportunity to get in on some business deals because incentives weren't offered.

In May, Hewlett-Packard announced it would make a $240 million business investment, bringing 140 high-paying jobs to Suwanee. The county promised $8 million in county, school and city property tax breaks and $25 million in state sales tax exemptions.

Morris said the county has made major strides in boosting the business base.

"We don't want to do anything that would impede that," he said. "In my opinion, impact fees on business would be a step backward. Let's not fee ourselves into a noncompetitive situation. The best way to make money is to plant a seed. Let's bring more business here."

Homeowner activists David Kesler and Bob Griggs, who have led the debate for impact fees for years, pointed out that academians have told the committee the fees do not hamper growth or drive away businesses.

"We all want to continue to grow. The fairness question has always been the biggest argument," Griggs said, referring to the argument that those who create the need for more infrastructure should pay for it.

But Morris countered that, by that argument, homeowners should bear the brunt since they cause the greatest need for services and not businesses.

"The greatest inequity we have is businesses pay a lot more than they get out of the system," he said.

Besides, he said the county's current revenue system seems to be working, and will only work better if more businesses are added to the tax base.

"It seems that you think the only way to get more money is to charge more. You can make more money by growing your business," Morris said. "The only way for homeowners to pay less taxes is for us to bring in more positive revenue generators."