Fees have big impact on budgets, politics - Impact fees drive up cost of housing, say residents

Christopher Dunagan
Bremerton Sun Staff

December 10, 2003

Impact fees have divided Kitsap County residents into two philosophical groups, a condition never more evident than during an emotion-packed hearing Monday night.

Some people think it is fair and just for owners of new homes to pay for the costs of growth, said County Administrator Malcolm Fleming. Others say impact fees only damage the community by driving up the cost of housing.

Until Monday, Kitsap County was on track to raise impact fees and generate millions of dollars, but a new vote by the county commissioners reversed the philosophical direction of the county, placing schools, roads and parks on a leaner budget.

County Commissioner Patty Lent orchestrated the change. Under intense pressure from builders and real estate agents, she reversed her earlier vote in favor of higher impact fees. They were scheduled to go into effect in July.

Commissioner Jan Angel, who opposed higher fees all along, voted with Lent to repeal the measure.

Commissioner Chris Endresen maintained her support for the fees.

Monday night's vote to block the increase in impact fees -- except for an annual cost-of-living hike -- will mean $6.7 million less for county roads, $3.4 million less for schools and $2.7 million less for parks.

During a nearly five-hour hearing attended by about 200 people, testimony ran 2-to-1 against repeal, but Lent said her decision was not based on numbers.

"Impact fees are not the answer," she said simply.

Lent acknowledged that she might have rekindled a firestorm that blew up after her vote in favor of the fees last summer.

"People are going to be very vocal about where my mind is," she said Tuesday. "They will say, 'The vote was 2 to 1; she went with the minority instead of the majority.' "

Both sides have strong feelings.

Tom Donnelly of Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Planning said if impact fees on new homes and businesses fail to pay for the costs of growth, then all taxpayers must pay more or else suffer the consequences of growth. That means more crowded roads, schools and parks, he said.

"I don't have a lot of statistics," said Amy Vanfossen of Indianola, "but I know that 200-plus houses (going in near her home) are going to have a real impact on my little street."

If money were not available for streets and sidewalks, children will be in more danger as they walk to the beach, she said.

Her son goes to Gordon Elementary, which is already "super crowded," she noted.

"It's only fair," added Dan Delaney, another North Kitsap resident, "that people who cause impacts pay their share."

Vivian Henderson of Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners said developers and real estate brokers don't pay impact fees, as many people believe. The fees are assessed on people who buy new homes, no matter how long they have lived in the county or what their actual impacts are.

Dale Armstrong said Kitsap County residents have managed to build new roads, parks and schools for 90 years without shifting the burden to a small group of home buyers.

"If people can't build new homes, they won't be moving out of the older housing stock," he said, adding that the housing situation would get worse for everybody.

Higher housing costs and loss of new business were cited frequently as potential results of impact fees.

Lent said she fretted about pulling a $3.4 million rug out from under the local school districts, considering their ongoing financial crunch, but she vowed to work with local school boards, legislators and the state school superintendent to find alternatives.

"I am thinking of creative ways to fund the schools, and I would take any ideas," she said. "Impact fees are not the answer to the infrastructure they are looking for."

One idea, she said, would be to change state law to allow school districts to keep a portion of the sales tax they pay on new school construction.

Grace Yuan, who has represented the school districts on the impact fee issue, said people have tried for years to improve school funding, "but we would welcome additional input from Commissioner Lent."

Lent is not as worried about county projects. The commissioners have set their priorities for road and park projects by shifting real estate excise taxes to roads and parks.

Recently, real estate taxes were earmarked for the new government center in Bremerton, new county administration building in Port Orchard, Silverdale community center, courthouse renovation and a new coroner's building.

"All these things we wanted to do, we were able to do," she said. "We should be fine for the next six-year period."

But schools, which have few options, will be affected to different degrees.

North Kitsap School District's $60 million construction program -- including a new high school in Kingston -- won't be affected by the commissioners' action, said Nancy Moffatt, finance and operations director for the district.

But impact fees were earmarked for a new wing at Gordon Elementary, she said, and the district might need to return to the voters sooner than anticipated.

Reach Christopher Dunagan at (360) 792-9207 or at cdunagan@thesunlink.com.

Road projects that cannot be built in the next six years because of a loss of impact fees:

Seabeck-Holly Road culvert replacement, $400,000

Miami Beach Road bridge, $495,000

Seabeck-Holly Road bridge, $575,000

Provost Road culvert replacement, $325,000

Port Gamble Road, $395,000

Stevens Road, $1 million

Tracyton Boulevard culvert replacement, $385,000

Miami Beach Road culvert replacement, $200,000

West Kingston Road culvert replacement, $407,000

These are park projects that will be begun but can't be completed in the next six years because of the loss of impact fees (shortfall listed)

South Kitsap Athletic Complex/Coulter Creek Park, $800,000

North Kitsap Athletic Complex, $500,000

Fairgrounds & Events Center, $1.5 million

Illahee Preserve, $500,000

Central Kitsap Heritage Park, 500,000

North Kitsap Heritage Park, $500,000


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