Mayors not wild about impact-fee proposal
Staff Writer | September 22, 2022 1:08 AM
COEUR d’ALENE — A Kootenai County proposal for cities to collect impact fees to fund improvements to the jail, sheriff’s office and parks and waterways received a mostly skeptical reception from local mayors Wednesday.
“Where does this end?” asked Rathdrum Mayor Vic Holmes during the meeting of mayors with county officials. “Do we keep adding and adding and adding until no one can afford to live here?”
Athol Mayor Bill Hill said while Athol is a small town, its reach is significant. Collecting impact fees would affect many around it.
“When we make a decision it is for a much larger area than our city limits,” he said.
Mayors of Post Falls, Rathdrum, Athol, Hayden and Dalton Gardens, and an attorney representing Harrison and Hauser heard the latest on a draft plan, “Paying for Growth in Kootenai County.”
The meeting was led by Anne Wescott, a partner with Galena Consulting based in Boise, hired by the county.
She outlined the plan that asks the cities to collect impact fees on the county’s behalf to fund expansion, additional equipment and improvements in three areas.
The impact fees, which would likely be collected for 10 years, would pay for $12 million for KCSO expansion and additions of weapons, radios and vehicles for deputies; $13.8 million for the jail expansion, vehicle and equipment additions and $13.3 million for parks and waterways.
It’s projected that the total impact fees on each new building permit would be about $1,600.
Wescott said the proposal eases the burden on existing property owners and puts it on new growth to fund services and facilities to keep up with that growth.
The plan projects Kootenai County’s population to reach 251,999 by 2032.
“The conversation we're having now is not who should pay, the city or the county," she said. "It’s who should pay, the existing taxpayer or new growth?"
Commissioner Leslie Duncan said the proposal was in response to citizens who said the county should be collecting impact fees to fund future needs.
“So we started down this path,” she said.
Duncan said she knows there will be differences, but she hopes they can reach an agreement.
“I have more people getting priced out of their homes tax-wise than people coming here and saying, ‘I’m not going to pay another $1,600 for my house.’ Who says that? Nobody,” Duncan said.
Mayor Holmes had doubts.
He said the impact fees would not help with the cost of housing and could “make it impossible for existing residents, their children, to purchase property in the town."
Mayor Ron Jacobson pointed out Post Falls has its own police force. He said he could not support impact fees on new construction in the city to fund equipment and vehicles for the sheriff’s office.
Jacobson said Post Falls has long had good, working relationships with other cities and the county, but was upset that the mayors were not included earlier on the proposal and a related study.
He said he would need more information about the proposal to fund jail improvements through impact fees before determining whether he could support it.
“Do we want to be good neighbors? Absolutely,” Jacobson said.
There were some heated exchanges.
Emily Smith, city attorney for Rathdrum, questioned the connection between impact fees on new growth to pay for expansion of the jail and sheriff’s office.
She asked if there was information available to show the link between new growth and an increase in crime.
“Correlation is sufficient,” said Patrick Braden, deputy prosecuting attorney.
“If you have to prove causation,” there would be no impact fees, he said.
Dalton Gardens Mayor Dan Edwards, a building contractor, was supportive. He said going after new growth was fair.
"For the contractor to take a few extra bucks out of his pockets to fund our sheriff’s department, our jail, our parks, for the next 10 years, this is a no-brainer to me," he said. "I mean, everybody should be on board and not complaining and criticizing about this."
Duncan said without new impact fees, existing taxpayers could have to foot the bill.
“There’s no easy answer," she said.
Wescott said they will review the mayors' input, make adjustments, and get back to them.
She said ideally, they need all cities to be onboard for it to work.
“Impact fees aren’t rocket science," she said. “It’s about what your policy objective is."
The idea is to keep a level of service, not burden existing taxpayers, while being equitable and fair, Wescott said.
“The equitable and fair part, we have some work to do,” she said.