UEP impact fees will go unchanged; Reduction voted down
Despite an impassioned plea by Mayor Eric Feichthaler to “stand up for the residents,” the city council voted Monday to leave capital expansion fees for recent utility expansion assessment areas alone.
Feichthaler and Councilmember Pete Brandt were the only members of council to vote in favor of the reduction.
Opponents to the ordinance argued that residents who are on the existing system would have to bear an unfair share of expansion costs, saying that impact fee reductions would necessitate rate hikes.
“It’s just cost shifting,” said Councilmember Bill Deile. “If we could drive the costs down, we should do so. But right now it’s a zero sum game and we have to pay that bill.”
Resident John Barth said he is “tired of paying everybody else’s service,” arguing that the decision over the impact fee is one where the city is deciding what pocket to take from when paying for plant expansions.
“This council and previous councils have been influenced extensively in lowering impact fees. It has put us so far behind the ball, it isn’t funny,” he said. “For you to even consider reducing impact fees is totally inappropriate.”
In a nod to the idea that growth should pay for growth, the mayor argued that utility impact fees hit new residents exactly the same as they do to longtime residents.
“Every other impact fee that we have in place is designed specifically for new construction,” said Feichthaler. “Water and sewer impact fees are charged across the board to anyone living in an expansion area.”
Feichthaler said impact fees for the utility expansion area have been hiked by 177 percent since 2004, and he argued that the current levels are based on a 2005 study that was conducted when construction costs were significantly higher than they are today.
The measure would have sliced the fees from $6,750 down to $4,509.
“If our assessments have settled back to historic levels based on economic climate, why are we still charging the highest impact fee allowed by law?” Feichthaler asked.
Councilmember Derrick Donnell voiced support for slicing impact fees eventually and lowering the costs of the project, but voted against the measure because there was not a solid plan to ensure those costs actually fell and did not negatively impact the rate payers.
“I don’t know how we get there, because right now I’m convinced that if we do support this we’re just going to add another burden on the people already paying,” he said.
Others were less generous with their opposition to the plan. Councilmember Jim Burch called the proposal a “feel good ordinance” that would fail to fund the projects that are already under way.
After seeing he did not have the votes to pass muster, Feichthaler pledged to vote against the utility expansion in Southwest 6/7 next week, saying that the costs are simply unfair.
He said the council is preparing to set a $10,000 impact fee, which he argued would be required to achieve 100 percent cost recovery if the prices were not lowered.
“What possible incentive does anyone have to lower anything? Because we’re going right along with it,” said Feichthaler. “If you do not cut off the source of revenue for certain projects, they will keep spending. That’s what government does.”
Brandt had spoken up against the ordinance earlier in the evening but switched his vote at the last minute, saying that he admired Feichthaler’s willingness to hold the city and project manager’s “feet to the fire.”
Other notable action
— In three consecutive 6-1 decisions, the council gave its final approval to buyout plans for general employees, as well as the police and fire departments.