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Published:May 2nd, 2007 09:53 EST
MPO Ponders Impact Fees in Jefferson County

MPO Ponders Impact Fees in Jefferson County

By Julie Whiteman

Members of the Greater Morgantown Metropolitan Planning Organization plan to take a trip to Jefferson County later this month to look at how impact fees have been implemented there. According to impact fee coordinator for Jefferson County, Mark Schiavone, the program has allowed for aid in the growth of Jefferson County through purchases made possible by the impact fees.

Impact fees are fees that certain qualifying local governments can charge new developers for capital improvements and adjustments that will be required as a result of the impact their development will have on the growth of the surrounding community.

The population in Morgantown alone last year was 115,348 and according to the Morgantown MSA Outlook from the Bureau of Business and Economics Research at West Virginia University, the forecasted population for 2011 is 120,493. Monongalia County officials are thinking ahead and considering options to aid with this exponential growth.

According to Monongalia County Planner, Mark O’Brien, impact fees have successfully been implemented throughout the United States to quickly help bear the burden of the direct impact that new developments can cause on a community. Improvements around the US have included schools, buses, law enforcement officers and equipment, teachers, fire and EMS equipment and personal, and parks and recreational facilities. In Jefferson County, so far, $3.5M has gone towards the cost of a new high school, a new police cruiser has been purchased, and exercise equipment for a new community center has been purchased, says Schiavone.

However, impact fees have also been known to have negative effects on communities when developers pass the fees off through higher rent or cost of buying a house, which can make it hard for affordable housing, according to Monongalia County Planner Mark O’Brien. Because of this and other reasons, the National Association of Realtors “opposes the imposition of impact fees under any condition.” “Impact fees kill affordable housing…,” says O’Brien.

A local developer who asked to remain unidentified says of impact fees, “Yes it’s a good idea, but the devil is in the details.” The developer expressed that any time you give up control or authority to the government or to developers, there will always be much room for problems, abuse, and misuse of power; but, a good impact fee system would be good for any county with growth such as Monongalia County has.” This unnamed developer envisioned a system with goals and a way to measure and evaluate them. The developer also mentioned the fact that impact fees would make developers more accountable since as of now, there are no code enforcements outside the city.

In West Virginia, so far, only Jefferson County has adopted the impact fees. Counties must meet certain criteria in order to gain permission to charge impact fees. One of these criteria is that a county comprehensive plan must be in place. According to County Commissioner Asel Kennedy, this has been tried many times in Monongalia County as far back as the 1950s and 60s but has been rejected by those who fear that it would cause the government to have too much control.

However, now, according to Kennedy, since developments have quickly been appearing in areas such as West Run and Stewartstown Roads, some residents in these areas are beginning to ask local governments to step in and help. Unfortunately for those particular developments it is too late to charge any kind of impact fee since the property has already been built.

Impact fees must be charged upon approval of a building permit, before anything has even been built. Mayor Ron Justice said that if Monongalia County had the ability to charge developers such as those on West Run and Stewartstown Roads, immediate improvements could be made to solve the direct impact those developments have had on the growth of Morgantown and Monongalia County.