Council approves limited impact fees
By LPR Staff
One of the main struggles facing any municipal government is balancing the cost of progress against the pocketbook of the citizens. This challenge is one the Lockhart City Council seems to take seriously, and which rears its head in the form of impact fees every six months.
Tuesday evening, the council took a small but p
rogressive step toward striking that balance.
With more than $22 million in capital improvements planned for the city”s infrastructure, the council voted several years ago to impose water, wastewater and road “impact fees.” The fees were meant to be charged to developers and contractors involved in new construction projects in an attempt to offset the the strain those new developments create for area infrastructure. Because development in Lockhart and Caldwell County seems to have plateaued while surrounding areas are booming, the fees have been used by some as a scapegoat, taking the bulk of the blame for the lack in development.
City Planner Dan Gibson and the city”s Impact Fee Advisory Board, however, believe the fees are necessary to make sure the city can support development.
“In a couple of years, there will be construction going on,” Gibson told the council on Tuesday. We don”t want to be behind the curve. If we want [impact fees] to be in place [when development starts to boom], we need to do that now. We”re already talking to the staff about getting ready, based on the things that happened in Hutto.”
With the construction of State Highway 130, growth exploded in that area and the city was unprepared, and has spent the last few years struggling to create infrastructure to keep up with the existing population and commercial growth.”
Historically, the council has supported impact fees for water and wastewater, but has been resistant to road impact fees, as Lockhart is one of the few municipalities that charges them. However, according to figures prepared by Gibson and the Advisory Board, Lockhart”s total impact fee is significantly less than the total fees charged in other areas.
Councilmember Lew White has routinely led the charge against road impact fees, but softened his position on Tuesday.
“This is kind of like trying to invest in the stock market,” he said. “I”ve always been a staunch opponent of the road impact fee, but I”m starting to feel like we should start to implement it in some percentage.”
Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram agreed, likening the situation to many others in municipal government.
“There will come a time when we know we should have them, and when that time comes, it will be too late,” he said. “I don”t know that now is the time [to charge road impact fees at their full level], but I think that this is the year.”
The council voted to continue charging water and wastewater fees at their full level, and to increase road impact fees to 50 percent for commercial construction (up from 40 percent), and for all other purposes (residential, industrial and institutional) at 25 percent.
To allay concerns that the fees would impede construction, Gibson noted he has taken phone calls from major developers doing “due diligence” in researching projects. He said he was not at liberty to discuss the nature of those projects at this time, and had no real response when Councilmember Paul Gomez suggested the council should be aware of such developments so they had a full picture of the future from which to build their decisions.
In other business, the council voted to refinance two series of bonds.
The bonds, left over from 1997 and 1999 bond issues, total more than $5.7 million. The refinancing suggested by finance director Jeff Hinson and presented by representatives of the city”s financial firm, First Southwest, will lock the bond issues in at 3.19 percent and save the city some $47,000 per year beginning in 2009.
In brief council news:
The council authorized EMS Director Melanie Tucker to move forward with an application for an Assistance to Firefighters Grant for Emergency Medical Services to purchase new LifePack cardiac monitors. Tucker said the current equipment is outdated, and replacement of the equipment could cost as much as $108,000. To secure the 10-percent grant match, Tucker suggested auctioning the existing equipment or selling it outright to another agency.
The city released liens on a piece of property on Silent Valley Road so the property could be sold and returned to the tax rolls. Although some councilmembers objected at first to the measure, they indicated that, unlike other agencies holding tax liens on abandoned property, the city takes an additional loss in that city crews are responsible for maintaining and mowing the properties.
They approved a contract with Jaster-Quintanilla Associates out of Austin in the amount of $7,500 to assess the second and third levels of the Masonic Building downtown to determine whether the remainder of the building is fit for restoration and eventual use as a viable portion of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library.
The Council will hold a workshop on Saturday, April 5 beginning at 8 a.m. to discuss upcoming capital improvement projects and personnel needs of the city moving forward. The workshop is open to the public and will be televised on Time Warner Cable Channel 10.