The Dawson County Board of Commissioners will hold two public hearings next month to give the public an opportunity to weigh in on an amendment that would result in a substantial reduction of the impact fee amounts charged to new commercial developments.
The fees are charged by the county during the permitting process and are a one-time fee for new construction of homes or commercial buildings. The fees help pay for capital improvements necessitated by the growth.The county adopted impact fees at the maximum amount allowable by law in August 2018.
The reduction would mean the county would charge 25 percent of the maximum amount for fees that are collected for fire services and roads improvements.
For example, the reduction would make it so that a company building a new fast food restaurant in Dawson County would pay $2,012 per 1,000 square feet as opposed to the current $8,050 per 1,000 square feet, while a new bowling alley would pay $323 per 1,000 square feet as opposed to $1,292 per 1,000 square feet.
The reduction would also affect new residential developments, but would not reduce the fees as drastically because residential developments are also charged impact fees for parks and recreation and libraries, while commercial developments are not.
The new fee for a fast food restaurant would be reduced by 75 percent, while the fee for a new single family home would be reduced by about 25 percent.
At the Feb. 14 work session, Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Christie Moore asked that the board consider reducing the fees to 25 percent of the maximum amount after presenting examples of business owners who told her they were put off by the fees and had decided not to build a new facility or were debating whether or not to expand current facilities.
“Our concern was not that the commercial impact fees would hurt the large businesses, the Olive Gardens of the world, they are used to impact fees. But it could really hurt some of our attempts to attract some other organizations that we really want in our community,” she said.
Moore said that reducing the fees would increase competitiveness in attracting target industries that will pay higher wages for citizens, bring Dawson County more in line with its neighbors that do impose impact fees and increase opportunity to create a more balanced property tax digest.
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines made a motion during the Feb. 21 voting meeting to reduce the fees to 25 percent and re-evaluate the fees every six months.
District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett asked if Gaines would entertain only reducing the fees to 50 percent.
“I would say that the 25 percent is a good threshold for us to start with, and if we see that it hasn’t made an impact like the adverse impact that it’s made now at 100 percent, then we can look at increasing it at a future date,” Gaines said.
Fausett said that Bill Ross, whose firm had created the impact fee study and calculated the maximum amount the county could charge, had said impact fees don’t slow growth.
“He’s an expert, and he’s done this for years and years and years, so if he made that statement, I wonder why it's slowing growth here, and it's not slowing it in other places,” Fausett said. “We’re in kind of a boom now and I’d like to take advantage of that. Another thing that bothers me is that we as a board, we said we would seek alternate ways of revenue...if we said we were going to do it, I want to do it.”
Gaines said the county needs to be competitive with its neighbors to be able to attract the kinds of businesses and jobs the board has said they want to attract, and that with a new hospital being constructed up Ga. 400 in Lumpkin County, the absence of impact fees in Lumpkin could make the difference in whether or not Dawson attracts high-paying medical jobs.
He also said the county would lose out on revenue down the road if businesses are deterred from coming in due to the fees.
“I’m not asking to get rid of them completely because I agree with you, new infrastructure is needed, that’s why I’m really fine with leaving residential as high as we can because residential does make a bigger impact than the commercial; the commercial does generate revenue downstream,” Gaines said.
District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix said that the main complaint she gets is about infrastructure, particularly traffic, and that the board should focus on improving the roads before lowering the fees.
Chairman Billy Thurmond said that the sales tax money generated by businesses has allowed the county to maintain the same millage rate for the past 14 years.
“For us to do the same things that we’re doing today, if we didn’t have Local Option Sales Tax in our general fund, we would have to have 4.86 mils from the property tax payer," he said. "Businesses coming to his community continue to increase that sales tax.”
The board voted 3-2 with Nix and Fausett opposed to reducing the fees, and Thurmond having to break the tie.
Public hearings will be held at 6 p.m. March 7 and March 21 before the amendment to the impact fee ordinance can go into effect.
The meetings are held in the second floor assembly room of the Dawson County Government Center in Dawsonville.