There is a scene in an episode of The Simpsons in which Lisa Simpson, working as a reporter for the elementary school newspaper, attempts to interview the principal and school superintendent. The bureaucrats intentionally fidget, stammer and stall until she gives up in frustration.
In an example of life imitating art, look no further than Columbia County's response to impact fees: Stammer, stall, change the subject. But while citizens might be frustrated, they aren't giving up.
This newspaper began calling nearly 10 years ago for impact fees, a charge applied to new construction to help offset the cost of growth.
The call was soon echoed by the chairman of the county's Democratic party. Though all the subsequent stammering and stalling has come from the Republicans who run the government and their building and real estate industry supporters, growth should not be a partisan issue.
State law provides a built-in excuse for stalling by making the fees difficult to implement. However, commissioners have figured out a way around that problem: Rather than try to use the money for sewer lines or roads, which requires complicated accountability, they can use the fees to pay for public safety equipment. Accounting for those funds is far simpler, and the money it frees up can then be used on other needs.
With that excuse invalidated, the developers have turned up their rhetoric against the fees. Tom Werner, the president of the Metro Augusta Builders Association, has been touting a study that he says shows development already pays for itself (but only if the home value is greater than $180,000).
So county commissioners are once more back to stammering and stalling, suggesting yet another study might be needed.
Hogwash. What's needed is an impact fee.
Will such a fee impose an "undue burden" on new development, as the county's stacked-deck fee committee said a year ago? Probably - but it certainly won't be as big as the "undue burden" new development has put on the county's roads and schools.
Builders might not like it, but none of them can plausibly argue that a modest impact fee would drive home buyers away from Columbia County - and even if it did, plenty of the county's citizens believe it wouldn't hurt to slow down the incoming flood. Stalling on impact fees only adds fuel to the no-growth contingent.
The debate shouldn't be about whether to have an impact fee, but on how big it should be.
Time for stalling is over, commissioners. It's time to get moving.
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