Impact fees burden their trade, builders tell council


Although builders are not fighting the extension of school impact fees, they spoke out Monday night against everything they feel is wrong with the fee system.

The fees, designed to pay for school space for children of new home buyers, place too heavy a burden on developers, "stifle" their ability to provide affordable housing, and are not matched fairly by the county, said Joseph M. Perry, of the local chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, to the County Council.

The council appears set to approve County Executive Robert R. Neall's proposal to make builders pay school impact fees in Glen Burnie and Linthicum, Annapolis and the surrounding area, and South County. It also amended his plan to include the northeastern section of Pasadena, where Councilman Carl G. "Dutch" Holland said schools are bursting at the seams.

The fees "may not be a panacea," but they're better than the suggestion from the Board of Education of a building moratorium, Holland said.

However, Councilwoman Virginia P. Clagett, a West River Democrat, said she supports a moratorium in her area.

"In the southern part of the county, people are feeling these fees really aren't going to do the trick," she said.

School impact fees have been in place in West County, Severna Park and the Broadneck peninsula and north-central Pasadena since 1987. Road impact feesare in place county-wide.

The council will have a hearing and possibly vote on the amended bill July 1.

If it approves the bill, as is expected, builders will pay an average of $1,500 per house, apartment or town home to subsidize additional school capacity in that area. Although the cost is ultimately passed on to the homebuyer, the developer must pay impact fees at the time a building permit is issued.

The early collection of impact fees poses a problem for builders because it is difficult to finance the charges in the first stages of the development process, said builder John Dodd, legislative chairman of the Anne Arundel County Trade Council.

Dodd suggested that impact fees be collected at the time of settlement, but the idea was rejected by planning officials.

Builders also criticized the county for matching the fees by using pay-as-you-go money for maintenance. This practice, Perry said, does nothing to relieve congestion in schools or highways."

The county would be spending this money anyway, so it is not a true match, builders argued. County officials strongly disagreed, saying the county spent little pay-as-you-go money before it began matching impact fees.

The county has collected $9.8 million in school impact fees since 1985. The $4 million that has been appropriated has been matched with $3.9 million in county money.

If the council approves the impact fee bill, the county expects to collect annual fees of $190,000 in Glen Burnie, $450,000 in the Annapolis area and $150,000 in South County. Figures for the Pasadena area were not available.

The county's Planning Advisory Board, which reviews all capital projects, recommended impact fees in these areas.

The council also introduced new legislation, including:

* A bill allowing county police officers to retire after 20 years of service, regardless of age. Under the plan, the officers' annual contribution to the pension fund would increase from 5 percent to 6 percent of gross earnings.

Officers have been fighting for the so-called "20 and out" retirement plan for years.

* A bill establishing licensing and fee regulations for carnivals, bazaars and lawn fetes. The bill requires licensees to post bond and be insured up to $500,000.

* A bill increasing the number of residents allowed in a group home from 11 to 15.

The council also approved an increase in the fee to appeal decisions to the county Board of Appeals and cut in half the annual $10 license fee for mobile homes.

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