Commissioners at the June 13th Regular Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting discussed replacing the transportation component of the county’s impact fee with a new structure, a multimodal mobility fee. The matter was discussed but not voted on during the meeting. The item will return to the BOCC at an undetermined date for further discussion and direction.
County Attorney Jon Jouben opened the discussion, explaining that the state legislature favors the introduction of the mobility fee, as its revenues may be used to fund multimodal traffic ways, such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and other travel paths, rather than only roads. A mobility fee is similar to an impact fee in that it is a one-time fee paid by a developer to cover the costs of the improvements necessary to fully mitigate the development’s impact on the transportation system.
What makes the new structure attractive is that it’s reported to encourage infill development and reduce new development from creeping into rural and suburban areas, commonly called “urban sprawl.” This model sets impact fees according to location rather than structure type. Currently, the transportation impact fee is set at 22.04 percent of the total impact fee, or $1269, for a single-family home.
Jouben explained that mobility fees potentially will benefit broader areas of the county than they currently do with the transportation impact fee. The county is divided into four districts, which are of similar size. Currently, transportation impact fees must be used to benefit the district in which they were collected. Deputy Administrator Scott Herring explained that under the mobility fee structure, funds can be allocated to other districts, provided the use is justified. Herring used the Anderson Snow Splash Pad as an example. Because the new park will benefit the county as a whole, the fee revenue collected would be available to all four districts. Jouben added that in the case of a roadway improvement project, another district could be charged the mobility fee if that district will also benefit from the project.
Commissioner Jerry Campbell, a proponent of the new fee structure, said, “Our job is to protect the taxpayers, and right now, I think we’ve heard over and over again that the property owners feel like developers [and new residents] aren’t paying their fair share of the impact to the community.” Campbell, who brought the matter for discussion, said, “One of the things I like about this is that it can be used to help protect some of the rural communities because you can charge a different impact fee based on if the building is in an infill lot, or if they’re building is in a rural area that needs a lot more infrastructure or improvements.” Campbell believes the new structure would protect taxpayers.
Potential rates of the mobility fee were not discussed because a separate study would need to be conducted to establish these. Existing data cannot be used because the transportation methodologies only study roadways and not the additional aspects of transportation, such as bike paths.
Commissioner Steve Champion stated that the new fee structure concerns him. “Are you saying … this is a workaround to increase taxes beyond what’s allowed under the impact fees now? Because we would have to have a supermajority (to raise the impact fee) by more than 50 percent. This would put it at more than 50 percent.”
Jouben replied that the answer depends on the study methodology chosen and the results of the data collected. Still an open question, the initial mobility fee could come in higher than the 50 percent increase of the existing transportation impact fee. “The statute is not clear. You have to follow the impact fees procedures for implementing it. It is not clear from the statute, and there’s no consensus among the counties, and no one’s ever sued on it — whether it counts towards the impact fees, or it constitutes a new fee.”
Another open question is — if the transportation fee is abolished, will those funds be distributed to the other impact fee categories?
Campbell, speaking to Champion’s point, said, “We’re all Conservatives up here. None of us want to raise taxes or fees, but we do have challenges ahead of us … We’re way behind on infrastructure and transportation in this county. I think it’s our duty as commissioners to look at all and every available option that we have …”
Allocco added, “We have a fiduciary responsibility to the county … This is a way for us to find a way to fund some road infrastructure without having to go to ad-valorem taxes.”
Jouben summarized a common case scenario, “Should the Board want to move forward with this, and we do the study, and we draft an ordinance … my advice would be in the face of uncertainty to be the more conservative approach, which would be that the mobility fee is included in the overall calculation of impact fees.”
County Administrator Jeff Rogers reported that 65 cities and 18 counties have some form of this mobility fee. He also noted that the mobility fee could be applied to some sections of the county, and not others, based on specific needs. In this scenario, areas using the mobility fee would not have the transportation impact fee assessed.