In the sagebrush desert southeast of Boise, new houses bloom in pastel shades.
Most purchasers aren’t aware that about $1,500 of the cost of their new home goes for impact fees for new roads and parks. And despite warnings from state lawmakers that impact fees will kill growth in Ada County, growth here continues.
Residential construction, which has been on a record pace here for years, slowed down this year. But commercial construction is up 74 percent over last year - and it pays the highest impact fees.
North Idaho communities have pushed for years for state authority to charge impact fees to help pay the costs of growth. State lawmakers have always said no. But in 1992, they gave Ada County the go-ahead.
Two impact fees were imposed. The countywide Ada County Highway District is charging new construction the highest fee, to help pay for roads to carry the new traffic growth generates. Its fees were phased in over a year, hitting full strength in April 1993. They run $837 for a typical home in town, or $900 for one farther out where the residents will drive more. A new convenience store pays about $23,000.
The city of Boise opted for a fee to support new parks. It started in April 1994, and comes to about $655 for a new home.
City officials have tossed around other fees, including one to pay for new fire stations. But they’ve backed off.
If the fees add up to too much money, people will just take their developments outside the city limits, said Boise City Councilman Mike Wetherell. “There is a delicate balancing act between obtaining the revenue necessary to provide the services in a city, and scaring away the goose that lays the golden egg.”
So far, the city park fee has brought in $930,615. That money has helped build two new ballfields and develop a 15-acre community park, with a developer’s help.
The highway district fee has generated $16.6 million. It’s paying for $5 million a year in street widening and other projects to help roads carry more traffic.
“Boy, you see the work,” said city Building Director Tim Hogland. “I think it’s really helping the highway district get some work done.”
Boise is still growing, Hogland said. “I don’t really see this having slowed anything down. There may be a specific project or something that impact fees have weighed against whether they build or not.”
Builders pay the fees when they get their building permits. Builder Rod Blackstead, who’s built close to a thousand homes in the Boise area over the last 10 years, said it bothers him that people who buy new homes pay the fees, while those who buy existing homes don’t.
“The concept was supposed to be people moving in from out of state were going to pick up the tab,” he said. “But it’s not real fair for the people that have lived here all their life. They kind of get penalized because they want to build a new home.”
Builders here are more aware of the fees than buyers. Most buyers don’t see a breakdown that tells them how much of their cost is for fees, any more than they see how much goes for windows or siding.
Jeff and Heather Ventrella, who are buying a home in a new subdivision, are typical of new-home buyers more concerned about other issues than fees. They sold an older, three-bedroom house and bought a new four-bedroom one. Impact fees weren’t a factor in their decision.
“Our family is growing, we need more space,” Heather Ventrella said. “We are not at this stage of our lives Mr. and Mrs. Fix-it. So that’s why we bought a new house.”
Sen. Mary Lou Reed, D-Coeur d’Alene, believes Idaho should let other communities try impact fees if they want to. But, she said, “The Legislature has been resistant … They talk about local control, but the Legislature is very loath to share that authority.”
The Boise Area Chamber of Commerce has studied the fees. “We have not seen a significant negative reaction (on growth),” said Jay Clemens, chamber president and CEO. “However, it does bother some specific kinds of companies.”
Clemens said the chamber supports making the current law available to any community in Idaho that wants it.
Sen. Jerry Thorne, R-Nampa, chairman of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, has killed such bills in the past and dislikes impact fees. He’d prefer something that directly targets newcomers, like a two- or three-year delay to qualify for the homeowner’s exemption from property taxes. That kind of proposal has failed to get through the Legislature before, though.
Thorne said he might consider an impact fee bill if it asks local residents to vote on the idea.
“We would sure look at it,” he said. “I’ve got a tough committee when it comes to that sort of thing. It’s kind of a graveyard for outlandish taxation bills.”
Wetherell said Boise’s fees are working because they’re limited, and because they’re targeted at specific needs that people here agree on. “In this community, highways and parks makes sense.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo Graphic: Ada County impact fees and growth