County reduces inflated impact fees

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The Colusa County Board of Supervisors last week voted unanimously to temporarily reduce development impact fees countywide after admitting their growth expectations 13 years ago turned out to be highly overstated. 

The good news to builders who have developed commercial property in the county since the fees were adopted in 2006 is that a spreadsheet glitch prevented the grossly inflated impact fees from ever being charged. 

“If the fees had been implemented correctly in 2006 (as adopted), then the pubic outrage in 2007 would have brought this issue up and it would have been addressed in 2007,” said Community Services Director Greg Plucker. “That didn’t happen.” 

The board, at their April 16 meeting, also permanently suspended the Arbuckle/College City traffic impact fees, and directed a new comprehensive development impact study be conducted in order to project facility and road needs within the county that are based on realistic growth expectations. Plucker said that before the recession hit in the late 2000s, the county – as well as the state – was experiencing tremendous development pressure. 

When the countywide impact fee and the Arbuckle/College City traffic impact fee structures were developed, the county estimated that approximately 31,000 new homes and 1.6 million square-feet of commercial and industrial development would be built in county jurisdiction between 2006 and 2025, from which impact fees would need to generate about $290 million for the county to build additional fire departments, new health and human services facilities, additional libraries, public offices for county administration, additional public works yards, new jails and juvenile detention facilities, and 60 miles of new county roads, freeway interchanges, and traffic signals. 

“Obviously those projected developments did not happen, nor does staff believe they will happen anytime in the future,” Plucker said. 

To put the inflated fees in perspective, Plucker said a recently permitted 4,000 square-foot commercial building with a $150,000 permit valuation generated an impact fee based on the 2006 structure of $36,266, which would have amounted to over 24 percent of the project. If the same facility is permitted in the Arbuckle long-term area, where most of the population growth was anticipated, the impact fee is $240,000.  

While the county did not properly collect the adopted fees on commercial development due to formula errors, Plucker said the county did collect impact fees on new homes based on the 2006 fee structure, albeit not as heavily skewed as the fee on commercial property. A standard size home in the county, for example, generates an impact fee of $6,300, which Plucker said is low in comparison to other local jurisdictions. However, the impact fee on the same size home in Arbuckle is $78,000.

The board agreed with Plucker that the county’s adopted impact fees are not sustainable and could squash nearly all future development. 

At Pucker’s recommendation, the board, by resolution, reduced commercial and industrial development fees by 98 percent and permanently suspended the Arbuckle traffic impact fee structure to more accurately reflect the actual rate of growth (39 residential dwellings per year) since 2006.  

The county plans to request proposals from consultants to develop a new comprehensive countywide impact fee structure. 

Plucker said the entire process should take about a year. ■