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Crow to eat on impact fee
editor's notes

Dear Carter, Noah, Wade, Steve, Brad and Gene (and Rick). I admit it. I was wrong. You Bryan County commissioners did too pass an impact fee ordinance. In my lifetime. Sincerely, Jeff. 

Now, here’s an explainer for those of you wondering what that was all about.

Some time ago I popped off in this space about Bryan County commissioners being about as likely to pass an impact fee ordinance as I am to discover I’m actually Prince Harry, and he’s me. Maybe not in those exact words, mind you, but I was skeptical given that developers tend to have an outsized influence on local government in these parts (and not just in Bryan County).

Besides, commissioners have been kicking around the idea of impact fees off and on for as long as I can remember paying attention. Until now they’ve decreed the time wasn’t right.

No surprise that the time still isn’t right, some say. Some of them are the industrial residential development complex. You know, those folks who might think it’s perfectly sane to squeeze 20,000 homes into 50 acres and then turn 40,000 vehicles loose into a cut through on I-95 so they can take a left without a light at rush hour.

I’m being silly, I hope,but to the argument that now is not the time for impact fees I say as politely as possible, horse feathers. If anything, impact fees are overdue if for no other reason than we’re talking about them. If they hadn’t been needed, we wouldn’t be talking about them.

One could argue that had there been such a thing as impact fees in place when South Bryan began growing like a house on fire, then one of two or three things would’ve happened, if not all of them.

1. There would’ve been more funds available to help fund the additional infrastructure needed to support the growth that has made this county one of the fastest growing in the Milky Way, if not the entire universe.

2. The impact fees would’ve actually slowed all that residential growth, limiting the need for the additional infrastructure nobody could figure out how to pay for without either impact fees or a TSPLOST sales tax devoted to catching up on infrastructure.

3. With impact fees in place, there may have been no need for a TSPLOST, which now puts sales taxes in Bryan County at 8 cents on the dollar and means folks on fixed incomes and those of us perpetually broke are burdened with helping our infrastructure catch up with growth some no doubt wish had never happened.

Mind you, nobody really knows what would’ve happened, even those who say they do. We do know an attorney for developers said, more elegantly, that impact fees will unfairly tax newcomers to pay for fixes to problems already existent and caused by previous arrivals.

That’s partly true, though of course some of us pay taxes to educate other people’s children, even those belonging to folks who moved here last week. Many longtime residents have seen property tax hikes and sales taxes added to help fund services for newcomers they didn’t invite and aren’t making money off of. Those good folks from Pittsburgh stopping on I-95 who pay various sales taxes on their Slim Jims and “sodas” or “pops” are helping to fund projects they may never see.

There’s another side to the argument against impact fees, one I’ve never quite understood, and that’s that adding $3,000 or so to the cost of a home that runs hundreds of thousands of dollars is somehow going to kill home sales or bankrupt home builders or ruin the American Dream. Surely the margins aren’t that slim.

In the meantime, let’s face it. Developers aren’t the enemy. They aren’t evil. They go to church just like non-developers.

But they do one thing non-developers don’t do. They develop property, turning it into things that it wasn’t before they got hold of it. Sometimes that’s good. Sometime’s it can lead to more traffic and headaches and septic tank leaks than you can shake a stick at.

Regardless of whether it’s quality development or something that falls apart in a month, what comes next is similar in that it’s not just the developers or those who bought in who are impacted. It’s everybody.

Few things change a community like booming residential growth. It adds cars to roads, kids to classrooms, uses water capacity and puts more demand on local government to provide services such as public safety, which costs tax money - a good portion of it coming from property taxes on property values that go up when people want to live in your neighborhood. That’s a good if you want to sell and move. If not, your taxes go up to stay home.

Maybe the impact fee won’t cure all that can beset a fast-growing community. But it’s a step in the right direction.

I’ll eat crow for that.

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