After hearing feedback from the community at two public hearings, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners voted to approve the ordinance amendment reducing commercial impact fees to 25 percent on March 21.
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 growth. The board voted in August 2018 to reinstate the fees at 100 percent.
The approved reduction means that the county will charge 25 percent of the maximum amount of fees that are collected for fire services and road improvements.
The board voted 3-2 with District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett and District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix opposed to the reduction and Chairman Billy Thurmond voting to break the tie.
“This is a county saying, but you’re supposed to make hay while the sun shines. The sun is shining in this county and economic development and what are we going to do? We’re going to lower it? You need to increase it. You need to go ahead and have it 100 percent now because history repeats itself. There will be a downturn. It’s coming. We don’t know when,” Fausett said. “Now we’re going to lower the fees. It makes no sense.”
Fausett said that reducing the impact fees is premature as the residential revaluations are still not finalized and that the county has no data from the commercial revaluations so the board does not know what the tax digest will be.
“To just think that we’re going to give away this money, I just can’t believe it because we would be giving away, if we did the 25 (percent), we’d be giving away 75 percent of the fees that really, the county needs to provide the better services to our citizens,” Nix said.
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines voted in favor of the reduction and said he doesn’t want to get rid of impact fees, rather he wants to implement them at a palatable level to attract high end businesses to Dawson County.
“I’m not asking to remove impact fees. On the contrary I’m saying let’s get them in line with our neighbors,” Gaines said. “Our neighbors, if it was the greatest thing they would raise them up to where we’re at, but they haven’t done that. They’ve left them at a palatable level where they’re comfortable with it.”
According to numbers collected by Chamber of Commerce President Christie Haynes Moore, the impact fees, prior to the approved reduction, were higher than those currently enacted by Hall County, Gainesville, Forsyth County and Cherokee County.
Pickens, Gilmer, Lumpkin and Fannin counties, the other counties that touch Dawson, do not currently charge impact fees.
Gaines said that he wants to see the impact fees more in line with Dawson’s neighboring counties to the south.
“I want to be as proactive as we possibly can but in the same sense I don’t want to run off any potential positive business that’s wanting to come in to Dawson County,” Gaines said.
Moore, who has advocated for commercial impact fee reductions to the board since Feb. 14, said at the March 21 public hearing that the reduction on impact fees doesn’t mean she thinks the county shouldn’t have money to spend on roads or infrastructure.
“My argument would be business is already paying their part, but we should be doing anything we can to attract high end businesses instead of just taking what will come,” Moore said.
The county currently has SPLOST and LOST sales taxes that generate revenue and Gaines said he sees the benefit in reducing the cost of the one-time impact fees for the chance to generate more revenue from sales taxes in the long term.
“A developer could come in and say ‘I’m going to put those buildings in Lumpkin County’ and we never see any impact from that,” Gaines said. “We never see any revenue. We never see any of those jobs that are created right here in Dawson County where people want to work, live and play.”
District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield also supported the reduction.
Speaking from his 41 years in the fire service, Satterfield said what the fire and emergency services need right now are more personnel, something impact fees would not fund. Impact fees would cover the costs of capital projects like firetrucks, stations and burn buildings which are not the immediate needs of the department.
Satterfield also advocated for small, local businesses that might not have the budget for the impact fees, saying that while big businesses could pay the higher impact fees if those nationwide businesses are subject to close or have cutbacks it would leave the county with empty buildings.
“Are we going to get that one check and then they close in a few months or are we going to let the businesses that built this county grow and continue to get that check every year,” Satterfield said.