Glynn County Commissioners are mostly in favor of implementing impact fees, but disagree on how to go about imposing the fees and on which parts of the county to impose them.
Impact fees are imposed on developers to offset the cost of the public services or infrastructure needed to support new developments. Proceeds from impact fees can only be used to improve the area they’re collected from and only on certain projects and services as stipulated in state law.
In August, the county’s finance committee voted unanimously to recommend the county commission enter into a $76,450 contract with impact fee consultant Ross Associates.
According to a draft of a contract, Ross Associates would help the county set up and begin imposing impact fees on new developments. It would also look at the feasibility of impact fees on the unincorporated county as a whole and on St. Simons and Sea islands in particular.
At the county commission’s Tuesday meeting, Community Development Director Pamela Thompson said the county will need to evaluate every area of the unincorporated county during the impact fee implementation process.
That doesn’t mean it needs to impose impact fees everywhere, it can pick and choose geographical locations where the fees would apply.
While he didn’t necessarily oppose implementing impact fees, commissioner Wayne Neal came out strongly against hiring the consultant at the Tuesday meeting.
“It starts off that I’m basically against paying consultants for work that we’ve got staff here to do. Seventy-six thousand dollars isn’t a ton of money, but it’s money that I don’t think we need to spend, and I stated that yesterday,” Neal said Wednesday.
He believes the contract is a waste of time and money for something the commission already knows it wants to do.
“It’s outcome-based research,” Neal said. “I think staff and maybe some of the commissioners have decided where they want to go and are using this to back up their position.”
Instead of hiring the consultant, Neal suggested the commission hire more personnel for Thompson’s office. On Tuesday, she told the commissioners her office was capable of implementing the fees, but that she would need to have someone to take much of the day-to-day work off her plate.
Rather than simply doing research, Thompson called Bill Ross, owner of Ross Associates, the “Godfather” of impact fees. He had a hand in Georgia’s impact fee legislation and has helped dozens of cities and counties implement them, she said.
While he couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, Commissioner Peter Murphy said Tuesday that the county will probably see many legal challenges if it tries to implement impact fees.
If the commission were going to go through with implementing the fees, he said it would be better to have someone like Ross representing them.
Neal’s problems with the situation didn’t end there, however. When the commission started talking about impact fees, Neal said he was under the impression they would only be applied to St. Simons Island, and then only to new subdivisions.
“Impact fees grew from being a few remaining tracts of land on St. Simons Island to every building permit pulled on St. Simons and now everything on the mainland, which is typically how government does,” Neal said Wednesday. “It starts out taking little bites and ends up taking a big bite.”
Impact fees are largely unfair to new residents, as well, he said. He saw it as imposing a tax on those that come later to pay for the infrastructure current residents are already using.
He did concede a point made by Murphy at the Tuesday meeting — an impact fee as proposed wouldn’t be much of a burden on anyone.
If the fee would be as low as some commissioners suggested, a $3,000 fee on a residential home, then it wouldn’t generate enough revenue to make a significant dent in infrastructure needs.
As such, he saw it more as an excuse to impede development on St. Simons Island.
“When you get to anti-growth people who want to stop it, they’ll push for higher impact fees, and once the mechanism is in place, who’s to stop them from doing so?” Neal said.
Murphy denied a similar statement on Tuesday.
“When a new development goes in, when there’s a subdivision or whatever you want to call it, there is additional infrastructure required,” Murphy said. “Roads, bridges, parks, stormwater runoff mitigation, all those sorts of things that are done at the expense of the taxpayers. The person that’s developing that project is profiting from that project, many of those people object to impact fees, saying ‘They’re another tax on us.’ But the simple truth of the matter is someone has to shoulder that burden.
“The one that’s involved in developing the project, building it out, obtaining the profitability of that project, puts aside money through these impact fees to mitigate the expense of those additional services needed so it doesn’t become a burden on everybody else.”
Regardless, Neal said he couldn’t see an impact fee amounting to anything good.
“If we were in a strong growth area it would be a different thing, but we’re in a sustained growth,” Neal said. “I just don’t see it being a big revenue stream, but I do it as being able to be manipulated to be punitive to developers.”
The suggestion that impact fees should apply to the entire county rubbed some the wrong way, such as commissioner Allen Booker. The Arco neighborhood is in his district, and he was opposed to imposing any fees on development there.
“First of all, I can’t support something that’s going to impact that part of my district in such a negative way, or any part really. Or any part of the county,” Booker said.
He was also concerned about the negative consequences for more rural areas such as Sterling.
“When she said we could do districts and have different criteria for those districts that are most depressed and in need, we should do that,” Booker said, referring to the Arco neighborhood.
Some areas could benefit from an impact fee, however.
“Possibly around the (Brunswick Golden Isles Airport) area because I think that’s poised to grow. If we are able to get some of that property out there with the (Brunswick-Glynn County Development Authority) ready for development, we could attract some developers,” Booker said. ”Think we should look at it, but I think it should be done anywhere in a responsible way.”
Commissioner Bill Brunson, on the other hand, said the county should consider imposing impact fees on development in every part of the county.
“I don’t think certain areas should be entirely excluded,” Brunson said. “If it’s an impact on the infrastructure, I think it should be included commensurate with the impact. That’s what the impact fee is all about ... I think it’s appropriate regardless. If it impacts infrastructure, it ought to apply to the development.”
While residential development may not generate a lot of revenue, Brunson said its still something. Even a little can help with infrastructure, he added.
“Not so much residential, but I think there’s an opportunity for the county to benefit from commercial and multi-family, which we’re probably going to see more of on the mainland ... With 125 single-family starts on the mainland, at 2,000 or 3,000 (dollars) a head you won’t generate a lot of money,” Brunson said.
They’ll certainly supplement infrastructure spending, but may not cover all the costs.
“At the end of the day, whether we implement impact fees or not, it’s prudent to look at it, gather the information and found out how much money could be derived,” Brunson said.
Impact fee or not, the county needs more money for infrastructure maintenance, Booker said. A new revenue study committee has been tasked with looking into that very thing, he said.
“I still believe the toll (on the F.J. Torras Causeway) is the way to go, and it doesn’t have to affect anybody locally,” Booker said.
Florida uses toll roads liberally, he explained, and one in Brunswick won’t run off tourists.
“A couple of extra bucks isn’t going to stop them from coming,” Booker said.