Spokane Journal of Business

Kootenai County impact fees sent back to drawing board

Commissioner Green cites 'problematic' collections for smaller jurisdictions

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Less than a year after approving development impact fees, Kootenai County commissioners have suspended them for up to 18 months, during which time they hope either to come up with a better system to collect the fees or to repeal them altogether.

Since the fees were implemented last February, the county had collected about $466,000 on behalf of most of the rural fire protection districts and highway districts in Kootenai County, says Dan Green, a county commissioner.

Even so, some cities refused to collect impact fees on behalf of autonomous highway and fire protection districts, and some districts hadn't negotiated collection agreements with the county. In addition, some developers claimed the fees for residential and nonresidential development are inequitable, Green says.

"To me, the issue is that implementation has been problematic," he says.

Green says the county has set aside its portion of fees collected so far until the commission decides whether it will reinstate impact fees or return them to developers.

The portions of the fees assessed by highway and fire districts already have been distributed to their respective districts, he says.

"Other jurisdictions received their portions of fees," Green says. "Their elected officials can do with them what they want."

Under Idaho law, impact fees are intended to be one-time assessments by local governments to recover the proportionate costs of certain capital improvements due to new development and growth. Such improvements include public safety facilities, transportation systems, recreation areas, and related expenditures.

The county assessed $1,527 per new residential unit and 42 cents a square foot for nonresidential developments to cover the cost of growth and development to its sheriff's department, jail, emergency medical system, and parks and waterways department.

Impact fees for fire protection districts ranged from an additional $711 to $2,377 per residential unit. Two of the four highway districts in the county chose not to assess impact fees, and the other two assessed fees of $305 and $1,814 per residential unit. The districts' development impact fees for commercial construction ranged from 37 cents to $5.68 a square foot.

Although highway and fire districts can assess impact fees, counties and cities are the only authorities approved by the Idaho Legislature to collect them, Green says.

Several fire and highway districts overlap city and county jurisdictions, complicating fee collections, he says. Some cities assess impact fees to benefit their own services, but they've been reluctant to collect fees for autonomous agencies, such as highway and rural fire districts, which operate independently under their own elected boards of commissioners, he says.

"Cities don't want to collect fees for agencies they don't control," Green says.

For the county's part, the Kootenai County Community Development department had collected the fees as it issued building permits for new construction, says Scott Clark, the community development director. Even though the county had approved fee schedules submitted by eight of 10 rural fire districts and two of the four highway districts within the county, the county didn't collect fees for some of those districts that didn't negotiate separate collection agreements with the county, Clark says.

For example, the Northern Lakes Fire Protection District, a large portion of which encompasses the cities of Hayden and Rathdrum, hadn't reached a collection agreement with the county, he says. Conversely, under a collection agreement with the Timberlake Fire District, Kootenai County had distributed $95,700 to that district, which covers parts of northern Kootenai County, including the communities of Athol and Bayview.

In addition to objecting to differences in fees from district to district, developers also had complained that the formulas for nonresidential construction within each district were inequitable, Scott says.

"Developers said there's a difference in impacts between a Walmart store and a ministorage facility, but they were being charged the same rate," he says. "They are interested in a matrix of different types of nonresidential fees."

Green says another commissioner on Kootenai County's three-member board of commissioners has met with highway and fire district officials to discuss how to implement fees more fairly and equitably.

The districts might have to ask the Legislature to grant them authority to collect their own fees, independent of cities and counties, Green says.

He adds that he's not certain that the county and the districts will agree on a solution that would reinstate impact fees.

"At the end of 18 months, we may find it's hopelessly broken," Green says.

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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