City council quibbles over impact fees
By LPR Staff
An ongoing saga regarding impact fees came to a head on Tuesday night as the city council once again considered the best way to finance infrastructure improvements.
According to City Planner Dan Gibson, road, water and wastewater impact fees were introduced in 2001 as a result of the actual and projected population growt
h in Lockhart. A list of improvements, called the Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) was proposed at that time. Gibson said the fees that have been collected since 2001 totaled around $618,000, only a small percentage of the total needed to carry out the improvements and has suggested repeatedly that the council lift moratoriums on charging impact fees. Over the course of the last several years, the council has routinely denied Gibson”s requests, as recommended by the Impact Fee Advisory Committee, to charge full price for impact fees for fear that the charges will depress chances at growth in town.
“When we first introduced the impact fees, we assessed them at a 50-percent level, meaning we would collect about half the money needed to complete the projects,” he said. “Over time, the council has chosen to discount, reduce or waive the fees, and as a result of that, we haven”t collected near what we should have.”
Gibson noted that often, large residential and commercial developers expect to pay impact fees and do not usually find them a hindrance.
The largest point of contention, though, has been the road impact fee. Lockhart is the only city of its size in Central Texas that has provisions for road impact fees on the books.
” I have always been against the road impact fee,” said Councilmember Lew White. “We are the only city in Central Texas that charges a road impact fee, and I think that”s a black mark against us where development is concerned. If we want to encourage growth, we need to keep an eye on these fees.”
White also noted despite the fact fees have been charged for five years, the city still had to purchase bonds for road repairs this year.
In an effort to strike a compromise, Gibson suggested that the road impact fees be charged to commercial developments, but not to residential or industrial projects. However, his proposal was met with resistance.
“Isn”t that kind of a back door deal to the companies that have already agreed to come here?” Councilmember Paul Gomez asked. “We told them originally that we didn”t have these fees, and now we”re going to go back and change that at this stage of the game?”
Throughout the conversation, both Gomez and White remained passionately opposed to charging any road impact fees.
Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram, however, noted that the funds from the projects have to be raised, and expressed concern about putting that burden solely on the taxpayers.
“We are going to have to take on these road projects some day,” he said. “The flooding last week should have been a good wake-up call for all of us. But that money has to come from somewhere, and the citizens are already paying for it in taxes. The developers coming and stressing our infrastructure, the ones actually making the impact, should pay the impact fees.”
Councilmember Michael Sanders and Mayor Pro Tem Frank Estrada shared similar opinions. In addition, they noted the large construction projects expected in the future could help raise money if they were asked to pay impact fees.
White, again, had another thought.
“These jewels are nice, but right now, they are still just prospects,” he said. “Our bread and butter here is not the large commercial construction, it”s the small business, and we have to worry about what we”re going to do to the small business when they find their construction costs raised by $10,000 because of road impact fees.”
After two failed votes not to change impact fees at all, and a third proposal to charge only a percentage of the fees, the council struck a compromise.
The final vote will have the city charging water and wastewater impact fees on all new construction projects, and only 30 percent of the suggested road impact fee for commercial development. All other road impact fees will be waived for a period of six months.
White and Gomez both voted against the motion, and Councilmember Kenny Roland was not present for the meeting.
In brief council news:
The council agreed to rezone a property located at 902 S. Colorado from Commercial Light Business to Commercial Medium Business.
They approved an agreement with Tyler Technologies to implement an INCODE Statewide Misdemeanor Database for the Lockhart Municipal Court. The database will allow court personnel to more easily determine the warrant status of potential defendants.
Bertram asked the rest of the council and the citizens to contact their state legislators in hopes of putting pressure on the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to upgrade drainage systems on state roads through Lockhart. During the flooding, some of the state”s drainage systems backed up and caused damage, not only to Lockhart streets, but to several residents” homes, as well.
The Lockhart City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month in the Glosserman Conference Room at Lockhart City Hall. Meetings, which are televised on Time Warner Cable Channel 10, normally begin at 7:30 p.m.