The City Council's decision to implement impact fees on new development raises troubling questions about the council's commitment to addressing this city's affordable housing problem.
The council approved the fees last week, assessing $4,454 on new homes no matter the size and $1,186 per 1,000 square feet on new office building construction. The council will use the funds generated, an estimated $1.5 million per year, for capital improvements. The council argues impact fees are necessary to pay for the increase in city facilities and services that future growth demands.
The city's stance is that new households don't generate nearly enough in sales taxes, the city's primary method of funding, to pay for the services the new household requires. But a look at basic data disputes that.
From 1994 to 2000, Steamboat Springs' population increased some 32 percent, going from 7,454 to 9,815. During that time, city sales tax revenues increased 46 percent, going from $9 million to $13.2 million. Finally, median housing prices increased 85 percent from $194,000 to $360,000.
The council is to be commended for past work ensuring Steamboat is a community with good roads, facilities and services. It has amenities a free bus system, the Howelsen Hill Complex and wonderful parks and trails most communities its size would envy. But given that, are there really capital needs that require further exacerbating the city's more pressing housing problem?
There are other questions:
The council is contemplating a property tax, arguably the most equitable means of having new development pay for itself. Would such a tax eliminate the need for impact fees, and if so, why approve the fees now?
Council members pledged to consider rebating impact fees for affordable housing and making the fees more equitable in terms of the size of the homes built. But if such concerns are truly important, why not address them specifically before approving the fees?
The council can implement impact fees without voter approval, but why not let voters decide?
Council members point out housing prices have risen exponentially over the last decade despite a distinct lack of city taxes and fees and that the city can no longer afford to forego its share of the pie. That's a short-sighted approach at a time when the average worker in Steamboat can't afford to buy a home here.