In their on-again, off-again relationship with development impact fees, the County Commissioners are about to tackle the issue again.

For the third time, they will study the fees charged developers for the county's new schools, roads, sewers and parkland.

In approving a $37,000 study by Carroll's impact fee veterans, Tischler & Associates Inc. of Bethesda, Montgomery County, the commissioners hope to, once and for all, come up with the definitive formula for deciding the fee.

That formula has eluded two sets of commissioners since the fees were enacted in 1989.

Since then, the county has collected more than $4.6 million in impact fees.

By the end ofOctober, when the latest Tischler study is expected to be completed,the county will have spent $119,800 looking into those fees.

"By heaven, I hope this study is different," said Commissioner Vice President Elmer C. Lippy Jr.

Lippy, while campaigning for his seat thisfall, opposed the methodology behind the county's current $2,700-per-home impact fee.

"This one, I hope, will be entirely different," he said.

"This study is supposed to produce a system, so that every year we can plug in the numbers and crank out an appropriate fee."

Just what constitutes an appropriate fee, however, has been a matter of sometimes fiery debate over the last three years.

"Everybodyneeds to know where we're coming from, what our basis is," Lippy said.

Carroll's homebuilders, educators and real estate professionalswould agree.

During the last round of discussion over the fees inSeptember, those groups came out against the way the commissioners were handling the fees.

Real estate professionals last summer argued that a rise in the fee would further hurt their depressed industry,saying it would result in more expensive housing.

And the county's teacher's union, the Carroll County Education Association, had at times questioned whether the fees were enough to support the level of new school construction teachers felt was necessary to keep up with growth.

The Carroll County chapter of the Maryland Association of Homebuilders did not agree with the rationale behind the Peat Marwick study that produced the first set of fees.

And they opposed the raising of the fees to close to $6,000 that the commissioners tossed about -- and rejected -- last year.

But, if the commissioners are going to study them again, at least the industry is pleased with the selection of Tischler and Associates.

"If impact fees are going to be a reality in Carroll County, we at least need numbers we can rely on," said Martin K. P. Hill, president of Manchester's Masonry Contractors and a former president of the homebuilders' association.

By early next year, Lippy and County Comptroller Eugene C. Curfman say, the commissioners would be able to reset the fee structure.

"This thing should take about four or five months," Curfman said.

Neitherthe commissioners northe county's finance people would predict whether the fees eventually will rise or fall from current levels.

Whenthe study is completed, however, Lippy and his colleagues say they want it to be the last one.

"Once again we're going to pay good money for an impact fee study," Lippy said.

"And, if after we pay that good money, it would be asinine to ignore Tischler's advice."

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