The Glynn County Commission voted Thursday to pay consultant Ross Associates $76,450 to help implement impact fees.

“The impact fee’s basic premise is to charge new growth or new development a fee to help pay for future infrastructure needs that that new development requires,” said County Manage Alan Ours.

Per state law, proceeds from an impact fee would have to go towards roads and bridges, stormwater drainage, flood control, bank and shore protection, parks, recreation areas and related facilities, public safety facilities and libraries, among other things.

“For example, if a thousand new homes were built, and those thousand new homes necessitate an additional fire station, then the impact fees would be used to fun an additional fire station,” Ours said.

If it does decide to move ahead, the commission will decide what form the impact fees take at a later date. As detailed in the contract, Ross Associates will study the local economy, infrastructure and public services to determine what it considers a fair and equitable fee for each type of development in each distinct area of the county.

The consultant would also write up a draft impact fee ordinance, which the county could adopt or tweak as it sees fit.

“The initial study and development would be county-wide,” Ours said. “Once the study and program is established, the (commission) can decide whether or not you want to impose impact fees county-wide or in certain areas of the county.”

“What this does is to study and establish an ordinance as required. It doesn’t impose impact fees, it only allows Ross Associates to do the study and develop the proposed criteria and come back to you for consideration.”

Commissioner Wayne Neal continued to oppose the fees as he’d done at a previous county work session.

The county already requires developers to pay for some improvements, like turn lanes and other infrastructure and safety improvements. He didn’t see why the county needed more.

Also, impact fees can only be used in the area they’re collected, Neal said. The study will determine exactly how large these areas will be, and he said the county doesn’t even know if it could use fees collected on development in East Beach to maintain Frederica Road, for example.

He conceded that impact fees could do some good in places with strong growth, but Glynn County is not one of those places, he said.

“A lot of these other counties are in growth zones,” Neal said. “They’re in quarters where there is rapid growth and it makes sense to impose impact fees. We’re in a flat growth arena. We’re already looking at being very difficult to bring jobs and opportunities to Glynn County, which I think is one reason to not do this.”

Additionally, the impact fees have to benefit the developer in some way and returned to the developer within five years if they aren’t used.

Administrating the fee will be a burden on county staff members without much tangible benefit, he said.

Neal said he didn’t see the need to impose impact fees in the first place and felt the county was jumping the gun.

On the other side of the issue, Commissioner Peter Murphy said the county would be hiring Ross Associates to do most of the heavy lifting on this.

“Certainly we’re not jumping the gun, because we’ve talked about this for four years, we’ve discussed it at at least three work sessions, we’ve talked with Mr. (Bill) Ross (president of Ross Associates) at least once if not twice, our current Community Development Department director, Pamela Thompson, is well familiar with the effort as she was involved in Athens-Clark County in implementing the fee there,” Murphy said.

The bottom line, he said, is impact fees can take a load off taxpayers’ shoulders.

“At the end of the day, it’s well-recognized that new construction, new developments, do impose new obligations on the community. All these obligations result in money being spent by somebody, money that comes from somebody. The issue is, right now, it’s going to come from the taxpayers at large,” Murphy said.

He used the same $2,000-per-home placeholder fee the commission has used in previous discussions, saying that amortizing a $2,000 impact fee over the life of a home loan would only add around $8-10 to monthly house payments.

Neal wasn’t only concerned about impact fees on residential development, however. Commercial developments often pay much more than $2,000 in impact fees, he said, with the state average for a fast food restaurant sitting at around $72,000. The state average for a 100-room hotel is $55,000.

Exactly how much each type of development is charged is up to the commission, said Chairman Mike Browning, and the fees don’t have to be that high in Glynn County.

He supported impact fees because, while the county does require developers to pay for things like turn lanes and sidewalks, new developments cost the county in more areas that infrastructure.

As an example, he pointed commissioners to the Canal Crossing Shopping Center. The intersection of Canal Road and the Ga. 25 Spur requires much more attention from county emergency services than it once did, the cost of which falls on the taxpayers, Browning said.

Looking further north down the Spur, toward Ga. Highway 99, plenty of land prime for residential development exists. The folks who move out there will want services like parks and emergency services, Browning said, and without an impact fee, the bill for all that sits with the taxpayers.

Ultimately, the commission voted 5-2 to approve the contract, Neal and Commissioner Bob Coleman in opposition.

In other business, the commission:

Deferred a request to rezone the Lake Maryanne subdivision on U.S. Highway 17 from planned development to direct agricultural.

Approved a new contract with Altamaha Park of Glynn County Inc. for management of Altamaha Regional Park.

Deferred a request to rezone 3600 U.S. Highway 82 to allow Flint Equipment Co. to open a heavy equipment retail and maintenance shop.

Approved a request to rezone 6530 Frederica Road so Christian Renewal Church of St. Simons Island can run a daycare and preschool out of the church.

Imposed new registration fees for adult kickball and softball leagues for the spring 2020 season.

Awarded an $85,000 contract with Swindell Construction Company of Glennville for sidewalk improvements on the south side of Kings Way at its intersection with Mallery Street on St. Simons Island.

Approved a request from the Glynn County Board of Elections to operate a third early voting location in the Ballard Complex during the 2020 presidential election cycle.

Recognized William Green for contributions to the county, including 24 years of service on the Selden Park Advisory Board.

At the end of the meeting, the commission entered a closed session to discuss pending and potential litigation as well as personnel matters.

Upon exiting closed session, the commissioner voted to accept a recommendation from Glynn County Attorney Aaron Mumford in regards to potential litigation.

The commission’s next meeting is set for Nov. 21.

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