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Kootenai County to consider impact fees

by Alecia Warren
| April 29, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - New roads and fire stations might be on the way soon, and not on current taxpayers' dime.

After a year of retooling, Kootenai County is ready once again to consider impact fee-funded improvement projects to help taxing districts accommodate new growth.

"If you go back and look at the amount of growth in the last 10 years, there's been a tremendous financial burden on every fire and highway district in Kootenai County," said Larry Clark, commissioner of the Northern Lakes Fire District. "It is imperative that we have some way of passing these costs on to the new homeowner."

The Kootenai County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing next month over a Comprehensive Plan amendment

incorporating new CIPs, or capital improvement projects, proposed by taxing districts.

The projects, which include new fire stations, sheriff's department equipment and road improvements, would be funded at least partially by impact fees.

These would only be paid by builders of new homes.

"The importance of it is taking the burden off the existing taxpayer and putting it on the backs of new growth," said Clark, who is also a member of the county Impact Fee Advisory Committee. "Like with the fire departments. All existing taxpayers paid for the fire protection they have now. It's not fair that new people come on board and they don't pay anything, yet they increase the need and use of fire equipment."

The impact fees might not be approved in time for this construction season, warned County Commissioner Todd Tondee, who has been a driving force in pursuing the fees.

If the Planning Commission votes to recommend the Comprehensive Plan, then the county commissioners will hold an additional hearing on both the amendment and an impact fee ordinance - the first in the county's history.

Following that, the amendment and impact fees must go through hearings at every city in the county, which would collect impact fees on the taxing districts' behalf.

"It's not a silver bullet. It's not the answer to everything," Tondee said. "It's just a tool to help fund improvement projects."

He added that if the amendment passes, its content will be incorporated into the new Comprehensive Plan currently in deliberations.

The county commissioners had been on the brink of approving the amendment and impact fee ordinance last April, but they voted to table the issue due to confusion over funding for some CIPs.

Since then, the proposed projects have been reviewed by the Impact Fee Advisory Committee, consisting of members of the taxing districts and the building industry.

The greatest difficulty, Clark said, was determining how much of each project would be paid for by current taxpayers, and how much by impact fees.

"It's very important we get those as accurate as possible, for everybody's sake," he said. "It's been quite a lengthy process. To see this come before the Planning Commission is a big relief."

Taxing districts requesting CIPs include all four highway districts, several fire districts, the sheriff's department and county EMS.

Impact fees would vary per taxing district, depending on projected growth and need. The proposed fees range from $500 to $2,500, Clark said, and average about $1,500.

Greg Washington, vice president of the North Idaho Building Contractors Association, said the building industry supports impact fees, as long as they are legal and justified.

"I would say that where they're appropriate, we're willing to be a part of it," Washington said. "At the same time, it needs to be known that consumers are the ones who ultimately pay for it. It's a cost we have to pass through (to new home buyers)."

The Planning Commission hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 27 in Room 1 of the Kootenai County Administration Building.

Clark said he can't be sure if the county will approve the CIPs, but he has high hopes.

"It's one of those things that's been a long time coming," he said. "I hope we're finally coming to the end of the road with it."

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