Now that the county is finally ready to seriously study impact fees, the real question is whether or not the impact fees will get a fair shake. Just look at the results that occur when you pack a citizens committee with opponents of impact fees and act surprised with the result.
I call on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners to make sure the consultant hired to study impact fees is truly independent and experienced in impact fee regulations. This consultant should have experience nationally - not just locally. It is important to bring into the discussion examples of how other communities have successfully utilized impact fees. This is an opportunity for fresh ideas and a chance for a new beginning.
Let me lay out the case for independence in this matter. The debate over impact fees has been influenced by entities with a vested interest in the outcome. The Home Builders Association is proud to say they helped craft the impact fee legislation, yet are the loudest fighting against them. In one breath they say they are not opposed to impact fees because they will merely pass along the fees to the end user.
On the other hand, they pay for an "independent" study by Dr. Jeffery Dorfman to say impact fees are not required. Is this a case of lying with statistics? The Home Builders Association sponsored a forum on impact fees, and the citizens committee that studied the issue utilized input from a firm that lobbies on behalf of Home Builders Associations!
Let me quote Chairman Ron Cross from our water bill insert "Endless Opportunities," Volume 34, April 2007, concerning the independent study from Dorfman: "Growth in Columbia County pays for itself overall with residential paying 98 cents for every $1 spent on service and commercial paying $1.09 for every $1 spent on services." If that is so, why did we need a $44 million bond referendum?
In fact, growth does not pay for growth. The elephant in the room is the estimated $100 million in future capital expenditures brought on by growth. The Citizens Impact Fee Report dated March 31, 2006, identified $80,332,175 in transportation projects alone that will need to be addressed. Based on the conservative figures stated in the Citizens Impact Fee Report, every day we delay enacting impact fees costs the county $7,763, or $2,833,805 annually.
More than 33 communities in Georgia are currently using impact fees to help pay the cost of the added infrastructure caused by growth. It is time to move forward and hire an independent, nationally recognized consultant to guide this county on the best use of impact fees. I urge the county government to seek Requests for Qualifications from firms that are leaders in this field. I implore the citizens and the press to be vigilant in their oversight of this process and attend any meeting concerning this most important matter.
The time has come to seriously consider impact fees. Tough decisions must be made. These decisions must be made in the light of day and protect the interests of the homeowners in Columbia County.
Scott Nichols, Evans
(Scott Nichols is chairman of the Democratic Party of Columbia County.)
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