Bryan County officials recently appointed local residents to serve on the Impact Fee Committee. The committee will be working on a study to see how different fees could help offset future development costs.
Bill Ross, a planner for the planning firm Ross+associates, led the meeting. Ross+associates have assisted with almost 70 percent of all impact fee studies completed in the state of Georgia, the majority of which have been in the metro area.
So what exactly are development impact fees?
New development creates the demand for additional schools, roads, sewer lines and recreational facilities. Development impact fees are one-time fees, charged directly to new development, which can help offset some costs accrued from providing these additional services, according to a handout from County Administrator Phil Jones. The fees offer the local government an additional source of money for specific projects, instead of it all falling on the taxpayers.
"What we have to do is approach this from the idea of, what is it that we need to build?" Ross said. "For example, how many more fire stations do we need as growth comes to the county? If we don’t have impact fees, we’re going to pay for all of it with general funds and SPLOST."
But with the study, the county will be able to look at its future plans and figure out how much of it can be paid for with impact fees.
"Impact fees don’t drive the process and tell us what to build. It’s entirely the other way around," Ross said. "The county tells us what they want to build; we look at it and tell you how much of that can be paid for with impact fees.
"To the taxpayer, what is means is their taxes don’t go up as fast or as often. That’s the short answer," he explained.
Additionally, the fees can create a financial incentive to discourage inefficient land development, by promoting infill development and discouraging scattered development, the handout said.
The Georgia Development Impact Fee Act was passed in 1991. It specifies that impact fees can only be charged for seven types of public facilities/services: Libraries, recreation, water supply, roads and bridges, public safety (police, jails, fire and EMS), wastewater treatment and stormwater management.
Before an impact fee can be set, the local government is required to add a Capital Improvement Element (CIE) to its comprehensive plan. To create the CIE, the county must come up with projected needs for system improvements, a schedule of capital improvements that will meet anticipated system needs, and a description of anticipated funding sources for each required improvement.
Only project and system improvements are eligible, and the improvements have to have a useful life of at least 10 years.
"Think facility space, parks acres, firetrucks, books for libraries," Ross said, noting that operation and maintenance costs, like personnel costs for example, are not impact fee eligible because they are not capital costs.
Then, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs reviews the CIEs and creates guidelines for the adoption of impact fees.
Ross said there are a lot of safeguards in an impact fee program.
"It’s a lot more administrative work for the county but it’s better protection for the public," he said.
"The idea with impact fees is to get a better idea – and it can still change – but to get a better idea, and put it on paper: Here’s what we intend to build, and when we intend to build it," Ross said.
"For the commissioners, it’s a reminder to them," he said. "Between the plan they’ve put down on paper, and the (impact fee) financial report they’re required to send in each year, it reminds them: We’re collecting money for these projects that we wrote down."
Ross said the whole system is a better management tool for the county. In setting fees, the handout stressed the importance of the county considering what the local market will bear without discouraging growth – and balancing that against the desirability of using the fees to promote the county’s desired development patterns.
"Impact fees would come in as a separate interest fund," Jones added.
These funds are kept separately from the county’s general funds, and money for each specific impact fee has to go to that facility or service, like a new fire station for example.
Because Bryan County is not connected, money collected for North Bryan County can only be used for its facilities or services, and likewise for South Bryan County, Jones said.
Appointed by the County Commissioners, the committee includes Johnny Murphy, a developer from Richmond Hill; Fred Gassaway, a builder in multifamily development and property management from Richmond Hill; Jimmy McClelland, a heating and air conditioning general contractor from Eden; Paul Boyette, from the Pembroke Telephone Company; Carlton Gill, a retired timber businessman from Richmond Hill; and Larry Garrett, Sr., a business owner from Richmond Hill who was not present for the first meeting.