How do you spell impact fees in North Idaho? R-E-F-U-N-D.
Bombarded with lawsuits, defeated in court, and largely unsuccessful in getting builders to donate the money, Hayden and Coeur d’Alene are writing refund checks instead of building new roads, sewers and other infrastructure with impact fees.
Hayden was set to argue one of its cases before the Idaho Supreme Court when the court held session in Coeur d’Alene in October. It instead decided to surrender.
“It wasn’t a battle they wanted to continue to fight,” said attorney Charles Hosack, who represented Hayden in the suit filed by Alan Eborall. “If you win the appeal, you win the right to go back and start over again” with a new suit in District Court.
The District Court decided Eborall, a developer, could recover $13,000 in impact fees. Two other lawsuits followed.
Five North Idaho builders who joined together in a suit in July are getting refunds totaling $73,000. They still haven’t decided whether to drop the suit, however. Although neither side will say why, the outstanding issue is likely who will pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.
Most of the rest of the $400,000 Hayden collected is being refunded, with one exception. Idaho Forest Industries donated the $84,000 paid on its Woodland Meadows development. The dollars went toward work on Honeysuckle Avenue.
Coeur d’Alene collected $476,000 in fees but lost a suit to the North Idaho Building Contractors Association in a fight that went to the Idaho Supreme Court. The city managed to keep about $75,000 - thanks to the generosity of Crescent Homes, Kootenai Medical Center and a few smaller donors.
People who asked for a refund received a bonus. The city had invested the money and passed along the interest when it returned the cash.
Despite these rebuffs, and a consistent lack of success before the Legislature, Coeur d’Alene hasn’t given up on impact fees. Along with Post Falls and Kootenai County, it is considering hiring a lobbyist to pursue impact fees and tax reform.
“We could get by without impact fees if we could get our share of gas, liquor and sales taxes,” Coeur d’Alene Mayor Al Hassell said.
The state formula for distribution of those taxes was set in the 1950s and 1960s. Efforts to change that distribution have been as unpopular with state lawmakers as impact fees.