The issue of impact fees in the city of Killeen just won’t go away.
Killeen City Council members rejected the one-time fees charged to builders and developers in a narrow 4-3 vote on Dec. 17.
Last week, however, Councilwoman Shirley Fleming and her advisory committee announced a petition drive to ask the city to reconsider this issue.
In announcing the drive, Fleming — who was one of the three council members voting in favor of imposing the fees — said, “We want to make this work.”
That’s been something proponents of the fee have been trying to do for the better part of a decade, with no success so far.
The fee is intended to help pay for the costs of providing infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer pipes leading up to a new development.
How the fees are calculated and under what circumstances they are charged can be confusing — and apparently, some of that confusion persisted as council members moved toward a final vote last month.
Some issues need to be cleared up before the council wades into this discussion again — though it’s under no obligation to do so.
First, developers and builders pay the entire cost of infrastructure within developments they are building. That includes streets, curbs, gutters, water and sewer lines, and landscaping features. That can represent a huge outlay of money, especially in larger developments.
Second, impact fees are meant to help pay a portion of the expense of running infrastructure to a development — not cover the entire cost.
Third, the impact fees on a residential structure are only assessed to the initial homeowner and likely would be spread out over the lifespan of the mortgage if added to the cost of the home, not paid up-front by the new homeowner.
Finally, taxpayers currently pay the cost for infrastructure leading to new developments, but it is an indirect expenditure. City money used for such infrastructure must be identified, and redirecting it can result in less funding for other construction projects, programs or services.
If impact fees do come back up for discussion, council members should make some changes to the city staff’s previous recommendations.
Part of the proposed impact fees ordinance that was defeated last month includes the maximum set rate. The lowest end of the maximum rates per service unit would have been $1,769 for water impact, wastewater and roadway impact fees combined, according to city figures.
The ordinance also called for a 20 percent increase in the fees each year for a five-year period. That more than doubles the lowest maximum rate to more than $3,600. Certainly, the gradual increase was designed to cushion the blow to developers and builders, but it still seems unnecessary. In fact, some council members were hesitant to support the fees solely because of the price hikes.
If impact fees come back up for a vote, they must be in a form that is equitable to developers and builders, while still providing a dependable revenue source for the city.
The fact is, a fast-growing city like Killeen needs help in keeping up with the demands for new roads and pipelines extended to new developments. Impact fees can provide that help.
However, setting the fees too high can have the opposite effect. Discouraging developers from starting new developments could hurt the city’s bottom line, as developers decide against building homes that could produce needed property tax revenue. And as building activity slows, the amount of money from impact fees would decline as well, producing a drag on the city budget.
The best solution would be one that encourages growth while also helping to pay for it.
But in order to get to a positive outcome that benefits all parties involved, it will be necessary to clear the air.
In the last few months, the discussion surrounding impact fees has given area developers a black eye while leaving some taxpayers with the impression that they were being taken advantage of.
Moving forward, this conversation has to move away from the “us versus them” mentality that has characterized so many arguments to this point.
Killeen needs money to grow, and if impact fees aren’t the way to go, it’s up to the city council, city staff and city manager to devise another equitable and dependable revenue stream.
No doubt, impact fees could be a campaign issue in the city’s May election.
Already, one candidate who supports Fleming’s petition drive has filed for an at-large council seat.
Given public sentiment on the issue, it’s not unreasonable to believe that other candidates will speak out on the issue as well.
Certainly, a fact-based, civil public dialogue would go a long way to bringing about a positive resolution.
Otherwise, this issue won’t be going away anytime soon.