Ada County will move forward with a plan to start collecting impact fees, even after a change in its political makeup.
On Wednesday, the Ada County Commissioners signaled its support to continue with plans put together under the previous board to start collecting fees from developers to help pay for new infrastructure. Called impact fees, these payments require builders to pay additional costs before construction to the county to fund infrastructure for fire, law enforcement or new parks as new people move in.
Some pitch impact fees as a solution for growth to pay for itself and slow property tax hikes. But, opponents say adding one-time impact fees only spikes the cost for the new homes, and builders will pass on the cost to the buyer.
However, the county cannot spend the fees on everything. Counties and cities can only spend impact fees on infrastructure – not day-to-do operating costs. This means the fees could help build a new fire station, but it couldn’t pay the salaries of people to staff it.
The county also needs to maintain the current level of service, instead of improving it with impact fees. This means the county needs to determine how well it’s serving its residents, like with EMS response times, and plan for projects to maintain that level of service instead of paying for projects creating new services where there aren’t any now. The fees aim to keep up with the demand of growth, not get ahead.
New leaders, same direction
This month, Ada County’s Commission flipped control from a Democratic majority to a Republican one with the election of Commissioners Rod Beck and Ryan Davidson. The election was hard-fought on both sides and issues of growth management were front and center, with both Democrats running in strong support of more impact fees.
The new commissioners heard a presentation this week from Ada County’s Deputy Director of Development Services Jason Boal, who has been working on the impact fee project for nearly a year. He said the county hired Boise-based firm Galena Consulting to study the county’s needs and the specifics of what would be an appropriate fee to charge.
Beck asked some questions during the presentation, like about the legality using impact fees to help fund a new coroner’s office, but he said he is supportive of the idea. He referenced his role in voting for the state laws allowing impact fees to be collected in the Idaho State Legislature years ago.
“I’ve always suggested I was amenable to it, not withstanding some campaign comments,” he said, laughing. “I’ve always been interested.”
Build contractors group weighs in
Boal said the county formed a five-member Development Impact Fee Advisory Committee made up of industry professionals, which has met several times since the fall to discuss the proposal. Yesterday, he said the group heard a presentation from the Building Contractors Association about impact fees. He said they were not opposed to the idea, but expressed concern about them being used for nonessential services.
Boal said the BCA also presented some information on impact fees from a national expert who had experience in “picking them apart” and gave some suggestions for Ada County to consider going forward.
“It was a great opportunity to hear that perspective,” he said.
BCA’s PAC contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the PAC Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth in 2020, which ran ads in support of conservative candidates, like Beck. They also ran an attack ad against former commissioner Diana Lachiondo, who ran against Davidson.
Commissioner Kendra Kenyon, the lone Democrat left on the commission after Lachiondo lost her bid for reelection, was strongly supportive of the idea of impact fees throughout the presentation.
“The prior board had the philosophy that growth should pay for itself and these additional costs shouldn’t be on the backs of existing taxpayers,” Kenyon said.
When will it take effect?
It wouldn’t be until sometime later this year when the county could first collect impact fees.
Boal said it would take several months for the county to approve impact fees. First, the consultant has to finish the study and present some recommendations, a formal proposal must be drawn up and public outreach and comment would begin. The Ada County Planning & Zoning Commission and Ada County Commissioners must also sign off.
Ada County is also planning on collecting impact fees within the city boundaries, instead of just in the unincorporated area. Boal said this would require the cooperation of the cities inside the county because they would collect the fees and remit them to the county. He said early meetings with all of the cities were encouraging and they would be willing to consider it if a proposal came forward.
This would allow the county to collect more fees because most construction is happening within city limits. For example, Boal said an early calculation found if the county only collected in unincorporated Ada County in 2021 it would only bring in roughly $19,000 to help build new EMS stations, but if it collaborated with the cities it would generate $200,000.