School officials: tax hike best option Opponents favor impact fees

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Second in a series

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series studying the 9-mill tax vote for schools which is set for Jan. 13, 2004. Next week, the Reporter will explain what a ‘yes’ vote will mean to Shelby County residents financially.

Some Shelby County voters may wonder when they head out to vote on Jan. 13 if the Shelby County School Board considered other methods of funding school projects, such as impact fees, before handing voters a proposal for a 9-mill property tax increase.

Impact fees are designed to generate income from those who are making the biggest impact on the infrastructure, such as developers who are building new homes.

Some governments charge developers for building new homes or other property on the basis of future city or county services that will be offered to the new property.

For instance, some developers in other parts of the nation face $1,000 fees for each new home built. The fee is set to help pay for sewer, school, fire and other services which must be expanded to meet the needs of the newcomers.

Legislators, developers, school administrators and homeowners are split on the idea of impact fees.

Some say it’s unfair to force current taxpayers to support new growth, while others say new growth supports itself and is a reliable sign of economic growth.

Shoal Creek homeowner Nancy Campbell said she sees links between the lack of zoning in Shelby County and the lack of impact fees.

Campbell compared the current housing and construction boom in Shelby County to a development free-for-all.

With no zoning regulations to restrict development and no impact fees to pay for future services, Campbell said developers will continue to take advantage of Shelby County’s conditions.

&uot;They can build as fast and as furious as they want, and then walk away,&uot; Campbell said. &uot;Taxpayers are left holding the bag in terms of paying for services. It’s blatantly unfair.&uot;

Homebuilders and developers say the

county is growing and that the entire county benefits from new construction.

Representatives from the development side claim that impact fees charge people for choosing to build new homes, while the entire county benefits from new growth.

Bill Crawford, president of the Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders, said impact fees unfairly target families who choose new homes.

&uot;Our association supports paying for our fair share of growth,&uot; Crawford said. &uot;Nobody has adequately defined ‘fair share’ because they only look at one form of housing &045; new homes.&uot;

According to Crawford, trailers and apartments make up a large portion of the new population in Shelby County. Most impact fees that have been discussed in reference to Shelby County affect new homes only.

&uot;A person is taxed for choosing a new home,&uot; Crawford said.

In Crawford’s eyes, new home construction is a good sign.

&uot;We have always believed that new homes add to the economy,&uot; he said.

Although the Jan. 13 tax referendum does not mention impact fees, Shelby County School leaders said they do favor impact fees.

&uot;We’re in favor of impact fees if they were approved and passed,&uot; said Evan Major, Shelby County superintendent.

But, Major said, impact fees are not enough to generate the $150 million that Shelby County Schools need for capital projects for the next five years.

If impact fees were ever approved by the legislature, Major said, the money would go toward capital projects and

could also lead to a rollback in the millage rate.

If January’s vote fails, Major will return with another proposal for capital outlay funding.

&uot;If the vote fails, we simply won’t have capital improvements until we have sufficient funds to do so,&uot; he said. &uot;We would probably come back for another vote, which could be for an additional $50-60 million by then.&uot;