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Kootenai County considers impact fees

With 60,500 projected new residents and 19,900 more homes in the next decade, Kootenai County wants to figure out how such unprecedented growth can help pay for roads, parks, fire districts and jails.

An advisory committee unanimously recommended in an April 21 report that the county commission adopt impact fees on residential and commercial building permits.

That might mean a new home on the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene could cost $5,200 more, while a new home in the Post Falls area would cost an additional $2,700. Impact fees could add $4,700 to the price of a new house in the Worley area. The cost per square foot of a commercial building could increase between $1.33 and $4.45.

The Impact Fee Advisory Committee made its recommendation after reviewing a study conducted by BBC Research and Consulting, of Denver. The study highlighted how much money the county, eight fire districts and four highway districts could collect to help pay for facility expansions, land purchases, equipment and vehicles.

Each of the four county departments and the highway and fire districts paid $7,000 for the $112,000 study.

The county departments and fire and highway districts all crafted capital improvement plans that detail their specific needs in the next 10 years when the population will swell to an estimated 203,339 people, a 30 percent increase. The consultant used these plans to calculate an impact fee to charge for each new home and every square foot of new commercial space. The proposed fees vary depending on the level of service needed in each area.

A developer in the rural East Side Highway District, for example, would pay $3,590 for road and traffic impacts, while a developer in the more urban Post Falls Highway District boundaries would pay $305. The same is true for the eight fire districts with proposed fees ranging from $2,377 for the Timberlake Fire District area to $833 for the East Side Fire District.

The countywide services – sheriff, jail, parks and emergency medical services – don’t vary by region; the fee for all four departments would total $790 for every new house and 26 cents per square foot of commercial development.

A majority of the eight-member advisory committee recommended that the county use the fee structure outlined in the study and that the county should start charging the fees 30 days after the commission adopts the plan.

“My concern is that I think the public on both sides understand what impact fees do and don’t do,” said advisory committee member Bev Twillmann, who is involved with rural preservation groups on the east side of the lake. “They cannot expect development to pay for all the problems we are seeing.”

For example, she said the county impact fees don’t have anything to do with widening or repairing state Highway 97, because the state maintains the snaky, narrow road that follows Lake Coeur d’Alene’s shoreline to Harrison.

The public gets its first chance to comment May 22, but the Planning Commission hearing is strictly about whether to amend the county’s growth plan to allow the collection of impact fees. If the county commission approves the growth plan change, then the county will hold public hearings on whether to collect the fees and how much they should be, said County Planning Director Scott Clark, who supports the fees.

“I think it’s good for the community and helpful to the development community,” Clark said. “It will help people understand the costs when they look at development projects.”

Neither Spokane nor Spokane County charges impact fees.

Yet Spokane is considering adopting fees to help pay for traffic-system improvements. The impact fees would require developers to pay 95 percent of certain transportation upgrades and mean that the cost of a new home could increase $660 to $3,000. The fees would add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of commercial developments.

Kootenai County Commissioner Todd Tondee has pushed for impact fees since he was elected. Along with the other commissioners, he was instrumental in prompting the Idaho Legislature to pass a bill in 2007 allowing their collection. If Kootenai County decides to begin collecting impact fees, it would be one of the first counties in the state to do so. Many Idaho cities, including Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, Hayden and Rathdrum, already assess the fees.

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