A study on impact fees is still in the beginning stages for Bryan County.
But county commissioners heard more about it Tuesday, when Bill Ross of Ross+Associates gave an update on the impact fee methodology report he’s been working on for the county.
The report is a way to look at how impact fees might help shift the tax burden of new development – and therefore the need for additional services in the county – off of current residents, Ross said.
"It’s important to remember you don’t have to have impact fees. You have general funds and local taxes and SPLOST already in place," Ross said. "But the fees help relieve the burden of capital projects."
Ross explained that impact fees, by state law, can only be used on capital projects that have a useful life of at least 10 years; examples are new roads, fire trucks or additional fire stations, libraries, etc. He said the county’s biggest decisions include first deciding whether or not to use impact fees and, more importantly, deciding how much to charge for them.
"The whole idea is how much of that burden can be shifted; what are the reasonable plans for the future based on your plans and projections," he said. "You don’t want to run a developer or home builder out of the county – that would defeat the whole purpose."
Ross said each end of the county will have to be assessed separately, because of the location of Fort Stewart.
"Because you have two different service areas, you can treat them very differently – different categories and fees can be applied to each area," Ross said. "I would recommend you approach the south and north in different ways based on their individual needs."
But if an impact fee is implemented and doesn’t work well, it can be changed, Ross said.
"If you adopt a fee, within the first year, you see how it impacts growth – and, maybe even more importantly, the perception of growth. At the end of the year, you can reevaluate those numbers," Ross explained, noting an impact fee program must be fully reevaluated every five years.
Commissioner Glen Willard asked about the ways in which impact fees might affect current taxpayers.
Ross said that the tax shift created by impact fees help offset future needs and therefore help keep a millage rate from increasing as much or, ideally, not at all. He said it should positively affect existing properties within the first few years of implementation.
"Our residents want us to look at how to lessen taxes. That’s where this program and the industrial park have both come from," Commissioner Rick Gardner said. "It’s a long process. We’re really just looking into this, to see if it will help or hurt us. Now at least we will have all the facts to help us make an intelligent decision."
An immediate decision is not necessary yet.
The commissioners will all take an impact fee workshop specific to Bryan County, to help them make a decision about whether or not to choose an impact fee program.
"We will give this close attention," Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said. "We’d like everyone to hear this thoroughly before we make any decisions."
Ross said the impact fee program is still a relatively new idea. It first started in 1991, and up until 2000, Georgia only had a few cities and half of one county using impact fees. In 2000, a countywide impact fee program was adopted by Cherokee County.
"In the past couple years, there’s been more interest because of the pace of growth and the need for services. With fast growth, that demand for service is there well before the tax digest can handle the addition of those services," Ross said.
Once the commissioners participate in the workshop, the next step would be to start looking at a capital projects plan for the county, in order to see where impact fees can specifically be addressed to projects the county is planning on doing in the next several years.
In other business:
- Tricia Reynolds from the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center gave the board an update on the Bryan County comp plan. The commissioners will all take part in a comp plan workshop on July 1 and, on July 3, there will be a public hearing during the Planning and Zoning meeting open to all residents to make any final comments on the plan. The plan will be posted on the county’s website for public review, see the county website at www.bryancountyga.org.