State law requires local governments that are considering adding impact fees to the many ways in which they can extract money from the populace to first set up a committee to study the idea.
The committee, which by Georgia law is made up of citizens as half of its members and representatives of the building business as the other half, then is given the task of researching the issue and reporting to local officials how an impact fee would work in their community.
Columbia County's impact fee committee now seems to be back on track after briefly swerving out of bounds. This doesn't mean impact fees will soon arrive to help take some of the burden of the cost of growth being carried by citizens who are already here. But at least it provides a glimmer of hope that one day their wallets won't be the only ones emptied.
Apparently, along the way to figuring out the complexities of Georgia's impact fee system - which obviously was set up by state lawmakers to make it as difficult as possible for local communities to tap the revenue source - Columbia County's committee decided to get creative in the search for money.
Actually, they decided, as one member put it, to "think outside the box," a phrase that is rapidly becoming synonymous with "Let's just make up stupid stuff, and hope no one calls BS on it."
In this case, one of the citizen members of the committee, overwhelmed by the difficulty of Georgia's system - as talking Barbie said before being silenced by the politically correct, "Math is hard" - suggested the committee instead clamber into comfortable territory by seeking an increase in the local sales tax.
Well, there's just a little problem: That would be illegal - a point some of the committee members eventually got around to making. (They would have made the point sooner, but having climbed out of the box they couldn't find their way back in.) Columbia County's local governments already charge 3 percent local sales tax; if they charged 4 percent, the tax rate would be the same as the state's. Can't have that.
Seriously, the committee members - who also have somehow forgotten to notify the public about their meetings, but we've found them anyway - have done a good job thus far of researching the issue. It's time, now, for them to get back on track to doing what they were formed to do in the first place: Figure out how Columbia County can charge an impact fee on new construction to help pay for additional infrastructure such new growth requires.
County officials say such a fee would bring in around $1 million per year. Columbia County Democratic Party Chairman Scott Nichols counters that the fee would generate more like $5 million, though he would want the county to squeeze a little harder than I think it should on businesses.
Somewhere in the middle is likely the true figure on the amount of money such fees would bring to the county. And it's way, way past time Columbia County started collecting it. The impact fee committee may have gotten a little off track, but it's at work - which is something a lot of people in Columbia County never expected to see.
Sure, the state's formula is complicated, both in how the money is collected and in how it can be spent.
But a county that can figure out how to measure the impervious surface of your driveway and then levy a square-foot price for the stormwater it deflects surely can find out how to put a fee on new construction that will help pay for the challenges that growth represents.
That's not "thinking outside the box." That's just common sense, and it's about time we had a hefty dose.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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