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As more homes are built, demand for fire services goes up. Now departments are figuring out how to pay for it.

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 3, 2021

By Zac Ezzone Tribune News Service

TWIN FALLS — With more homes being built in the county, the demand and costs for fire departments are going up.

Now, local governments and fire district officials are discussing implementing impact fees in parts of Twin Falls County to help pay for it.

These are one-time fees attached to the construction of new homes or commercial buildings by jurisdictions that issue building permits, like cities or counties. Under state law, the money generated from these fees can go only toward capital expenses needed to help keep pace with growth.

“The purpose behind it is to strictly help with keeping our services up to the same level they were before the new houses were built,” said Rock Creek Fire Chief Aaron Zent.

In 2010, the district responded to 674 calls for service. The department is on pace to hit 1,400 or 1,500 this year. This increase in calls leads to more mileage on fire engines and wear on equipment, which then needs to be replaced faster.

And while calls for service have increased, the district’s budget has largely remained unchanged over the last ten years.

“Right now, with our budget, we don’t have a way to replace fire trucks or to look at adding another station or replacing a station,” Zent said.

The money generated from the impact fees would be used exclusively for these types of purchases. The district would have to develop a long-term capital improvement plan that a committee would oversee. Under state law, this plan would need to be reviewed and revised at least every five years.

The plan would identify a list of projects and their estimated costs, which would then dictate the impact fee rate. Zent said this could range between $600 and $1,000 for each newly constructed home. The fee for commercial construction is derived through a formula based on the structure’s square footage.

Last year, if all entities within the fire district adopted impact fees, the department would have generated about $100,000 on the high end, Zent estimates.

“Obviously, I can’t save enough money in a year to go buy a new fire truck when the cost of engines are about $700,000,” Zent said. “So it takes some time and some savings to make that happen.”

Because the fees are tied to building permits, the district doesn’t have the authority to implement the fees by itself. Instead, it’s up to the officials presiding over jurisdictions within the district to decide whether or not to implement these fees.

Zent said his district and the Twin Falls Rural Fire District — which contracts the Twin Falls Fire Department to provide services to residents in unincorporated areas outside the city — has recently held two meetings with the Twin Falls County Board of Commissioners to discuss these fees.

The Rock Creek district has held similar conversations with city officials in Hansen, Kimberly and Murtaugh.

Twin Falls already has such fees in place, which generate funding for the city’s fire, parks, police and street departments. The city is in the process of updating its impact fees.

The discussion over these fees is in the preliminary stages, County Commissioner Brent Reinke said.

“We need to get ourselves up to speed at just what this might mean should we go one way or the other,” Reinke said.

The commissioners will continue to meet with the fire districts and a consultant the districts hired who has worked with other fire departments throughout the state on this impact fee process.

After learning more about this process, the commissioners will seek input on whether or not to adopt these fees. This includes speaking with realtors, developers and the general public.

Although the fees are only applied to newly constructed homes and commercial buildings, Hall said he’s concerned about taking actions that could potentially make housing more expensive, at a time when home prices are already increasing.

“My challenge is, I want growth paying for growth,” Hall said. “But it’s going to cost more for a house for people that are already struggling getting houses.”

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