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Fighting a fire on impact fees Kids donate food

by Brian Walker
| December 22, 2010 8:00 PM

Larry Clark wonders why agencies across the state can use impact fees on rolling stock when it's not happening in Kootenai County.

"I checked with several other cities and counties, and they've all got rolling stock in their capital improvement plans (to be funded with impact fees on growth)," the Northern Lakes Fire District commissioner said. "Something isn't right.

"Either we've got to amend the state law so that impact fees can be used on rolling stock for fire districts and, if they find it applicable, highway districts, in North Idaho or we can challenge one of the cities doing it to declare it illegal."

Clark said Northern Lakes and other fire agencies would rather go the legislative route to clarify the law on whether rolling stock such as new engines and trucks can be funded with impact fees.

"What they're really saying currently is that you can build a firehouse, but you can't have any trucks or engines in it to fight fires," Clark said. "What good is a new station if you can't have equipment in it?"

Cities and counties charge the fees on new growth so growth helps pay for its impact on the community. The fees can't be used to replace equipment. Attorneys differ on their opinions of the law's intent with new rolling stock.

Ron Sampert, Kootenai County Fire and Rescue chief, said agencies have started discussions with legislators on a possible fix.

"The statute today doesn't address rolling stock," Sampert said. "So it comes down to a matter of philosophy in how you look at it. Some legal fronts believe that, since the law doesn't say that you can, therefore you can not. The other side is, if it doesn't say you can not, then you can.

"Our philosophy is, if it doesn't say you can not, then you can."

Several fire agencies across the state, including in Twin Falls, Boise, Pocatello and Mountain Home, have rolling stock in their capital improvement plans that can be funded with impact fees.

Travis Rothweiler, Twin Falls assistant city manager, said rolling stock has been in that city's plan since it was updated in October 2008.

"Our legal counsel believes that fire apparatus that have a lifespan of at least 10 years meets the test for impact fees," Rothweiler said. "We do keep some fire apparatus 20 years."

Jerry Mason and Nancy Stricklin, attorneys for some local cities, including Post Falls, Hauser and Rathdrum, declined to comment on their interpretation of the law, adding that they reserve their opinions for their clients. Those cities do not have rolling stock in their plans funded by impact fees.

"Not all attorneys interpret the definition of public facilities the same," Stricklin said. "Some interpret it to include rolling stock, others do not."

Mason and Stricklin don't advise any fire agencies on impact fees.

"The impact fee question has its complexities, and we don't seek to impose our interpretations on anyone," Mason said. "Whatever the problem, in today's economy impact fees have a hard time being the solution. They truly work when there is development. That is quite limited at this point."

Sampert said the Association of Fire Commissioners has started dialogue with the Association of Cities to discuss clarifying the law. The groups would then work with legislators on drafting legislation.

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said there may be some uphill battles.

"Rolling stock is difficult to define as capital," Hammond said. "There may be some argument that a piece of equipment that is depreciated over 15 to 20 years may be considered capital.

"The challenge is that urban renewal will likely come under attack in the Legislature again and this may be seen by some as further abuse of the law."

Northern Lakes Chief Dean Marcus said his district believes fire trucks should be included because they are a special type of vehicle, are critical to firefighting and can be in service 20 years.

Eric Keck, Post Falls city administrator, said the city has been steadfast that rolling stock does not qualify under the law as a capital improvement.

"The definition would lead one to believe that an improvement is anything that has some permanency to it such as brick-and-mortar improvements," he said. "There is no mention of lifespan in the definition and I know that this is what many communities in southern Idaho have utilized in their rationale (for including rolling stock)."

However, if a legislative fix is made, the city likely would support a move "so long as it is defensible and justifiable in the benefit to the community," Keck said.

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