Mass repeal

Local group wants voters to address impact fee issue

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— For real estate broker Norbert Turek, the prospect of forming a citizens group for impact fees has the danger of a high school girl spending hours getting ready for the prom and no one liking the dress.

That doesn't mean Turek does not like the idea. In fact, as one of five petitioners who filed a lawsuit over the impact fees the City Council passed in June, a community committee was one of the bargaining points for ending the lawsuit.

As a populist, Turek said he is a fan of the government process and thinks the issue should go to the voters. But he also believes whatever the citizens group brings to the ballot in November will need a lot of convincing before voters will pass a tax to pay for growth.

"It's kind of like spending hours getting ready for the prom and no one liking the dress. (The committee) spends a long time getting ready and the voters have the opportunity to be critical," Turek said. "Selling the plan to the people is the hard part."

The council's endorsement of a citizens group at Tuesday's council meeting was the latest turn in the city's long road in search of a way to fund new development and growth.

The council directed city staff to move forward with forming a citizens group, whose mission would be to recommend a plan that generates as much or more revenue as the one in place. But voters must pass that plan before the council repeals the current impact fee.

The original impact fee, which was passed June 19, was a charge on all new development and cost the builder of a new single-family development $4,454. The council later revised it on Nov. 6 to exempt affordable housing and lower the overall cost, with a single-family home paying about $4,000.

Shortly after the first impact fee passed, five petitioners sued the city for denying the request to bring impact fees to a vote.

The petitioners in the lawsuit argued the fees were not necessarily justified and should go to a vote of the people, given their importance and cost to the Steamboat community. The city argued the fees are a direct payment supported by a $1000,000 study for the impact of new development on the city's infrastructure.

And while the council's direction on Tuesday does not mean the voters will get to decide if impact fees should or should not be applied to new development, it is a chance for a committee to bring viable alternatives to the polls.

"The important thing is that growth needs to pay its own way," Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner said.

By law impact fees do not need voter approval, but Stettner said to implement the fees the council had to development a very clear plan on where the money is spent and only spend it on capital improvements, not the city's operating costs. If the money is not spent as intended in seven years, it goes back to the developer.

"It's a very rigorous system. And in exchange for that, the community doesn't vote," Stettner said.

Other money-generating plans to pay for growth, such as excise taxes and property taxes, have less restrictive spending guidelines but need to be passed by the voters. When discussing alternatives to impact fees, the words excise tax passes over almost everyone's lips. While the impact fees charge by building units, an excise tax for growth would be determined by square footage, which some say is a better gauge of the impact a household will have on the community.

"I believe they are looking at impact fees or excise taxes. But there are many alternatives and that is just one of them," said Stuart Orzach, who has volunteered for the citizen's group.

Whatever alternative the group decides on, Turek said it will be a hard job getting it by the voters, and without passage, the impact fees remain in place.

"This is the hard part. To be really fair, (the plan) has got to be complicated and has got to deal with individual choices. Once you develop a really complicated plan, it's hard to (explain) and easy to defeat," Turek said.

The city already has experience with using committees to weigh in on impact fees. In 1994, a group of seven came up with an impact fee plan the council rejected.

At Tuesday's meeting, the council discussed sticking close to the demographics used for the first impact fee committee, which pulled a person from the residential development, commercial development, finance, real estate and transportation sectors and two members at large. The council, which has begun advertising for the committee and looks to make a decision this Tuesday, discussed adding a third member to the "at large" contingent.

As the attorney representing the petitioners' lawsuit and a member of the first impact fee committee in 1994, Bob Weiss is pleased with the council's decision. The council's agreement to form a citizens group means the lawsuit drops.

"Those were our goals (for the council) to consider alternatives, make a decision on what the best alternative is and to put that on the ballot," he said. "If they agree to do all that, then there isn't anything to contend."

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