Council splits on impact fees

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Schedules Feb. 21 workshop

By Carolyn Ten Broeck, Editor

If you were rejoicing two weeks ago that the city of Williston would no longer have impact fees, you may want to rein in that enthusiasm today.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, council took a flip flop on its Jan. 22 decision to eliminate the fees on water and sewer capacity for new development.

Two weeks ago the council asked staff to draft an ordinance that would abolish the fees, but Tuesday City Manager Scott Lippmann asked the council to reconsider it decision.

In his presentation to the council, Lippmann said staff did not have all the necessary data to present to council and recommended extending the current moratorium for a year while holding an information-gathering workshop.

Lippmann said he was concerned if there was rapid growth in the city, the funds needed for expanding water and sewer would not be available.

Charles Goodman, the most outspoken critic of  impact fees on the council, said that in general, impact fees send the signal, “We don’t want you. If you want to be in our town, well, it’s going to cost you.”

Goodman, a general contractor, said years ago when his industry was booming, state and local governments put so many costs on construction that it eventually strangled it.

“Impact fees are punitive,” Goodman said.

And while he agreed there was a capacity issue with the sewer system, he said the city should be addressing the future need in a capital improvement plan. He said that planning should have taken place years ago and just because the city had been remiss in its duties, others shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars in addition to already expensive construction costs.

Mayor Gerald Hethcoat said impact fees may not be the answer and bonds could play a factor in the future.

“We may need to look at something other than the impact fee,” said the mayor who does not have a vote on the council but can offer his opinion.

President Jason Cason said impact fees in Williston were not implemented to “suck the life out of contractors.” He said it stemmed from two subdivisions in the city limits and were not meant to stop growth, but to take advantage of it.

Cason said he thought when the council passed the moratorium last year, it didn’t have enough data to back it up. (Cason was not on the council at the time.) He still feels that way.

Cal Byrd said he could see both sides but   the council needs to operate the city like a business and make money for the costs that will come.

Goodman stood behind the Jan. 22 decision and said there was plenty of time to re-activate the fees in the future. He also called Lippmann’s presentation a “fire sale” and cautioned his colleagues, “We’re not going to have 500 houses built in Williston in a year.”

When the time came, Cason, Elihu Ross and new council member Jack Screws voted to table preparing an ordinance abolishing impact fees  and schedule a workshop.

Goodman and Byrd opposed the motion.

 The public workshop will be held Feb. 21.