The Dawson County Chamber of Commerce is continuing to fight against the impact fees instated by the Dawson Board of Commissioners last August, particularly the effect the fees have on the business community, as evidenced by a presentation Feb. 14 by Chamber President Christie Moore.
Impact fees are one-time fees collected on new developments during the building permit process that are intended to help offset the costs of capital improvements and services. The services that benefit from the fees include libraries, parks and recreation, roads and public safety.
All of the service categories will receive money from the fees collected on residential developments, but only roads and public safety will see fees from commercial buildings as well.
Moore asked the board to consider reducing the percentage of maximum allowed impact fees in the roads and public safety categories to 25 percent, because those are the only two categories that apply to commercial entities.
The board voted 3-1 Aug. 16 to impose the fees at the maximum possible amount allowed by law, and the board has the ability to change the percentage they charge at any time.
Chairman Billy Thurmond said he had asked Moore as well as Director of Economic Development Betsy McGriff to come to the meeting and speak to the effect they had seen on businesses since the fees were imposed.
“When we instituted impact fees approximately six months ago we said we would take a look periodically at how that is affecting our businesses,” Thurmond said to the board. “I think you’ve seen in the numbers that have been given to you from the planning department and through finance that we’ve done very well on the residential side; there has been a couple of commercial businesses that have paid those impact fees during that time, one being Wendy’s, which is a movement from one spot to another.”
Of the over $500,000 in fees collected since August, Moore said so far only $73,000 has been collected so far in commercial impact fees, with Olive Garden and Wendy’s making up the majority of those fees.Moore said that reducing the fees would increase competitiveness in attracting target industries that will pay higher wages for citizens.
“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 gave three examples of businesses that the county missed out on or may end up missing out on due to the fees.
“A large fitness center was considering building a new center here in Dawson County...their impact fee would have been $51,000,” she said. “The moment they found out about that fee they changed their mind.”
District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett asked what the tap fee would have been from the Etowah Water and Sewer Authority for the business.
“We’re nothing compared to that,” Fausett said.
District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix also said she thought that the problem was the tap fees.
“I understand where you’re coming from, but in this particular case it was the $51,000 impact fee,” Moore said. “People assume that they are going to have to pay water and tap fees the same way they assume they are going to have to pay property tax.”
Moore said that in this case Dawson County lost out on significantly increased property tax revenue, as well as additional jobs, sales tax revenue and additional options for citizens to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Another example Moore presented was a manufacturing company already located in the county that wants to expand. The $109,000 in impact fees the company would have to pay could negatively impact their decision.
Moore said the land for the proposed expansion is currently zoned residential agricultural and brings in $335 per acre in property tax, whereas if the manufacturer expanded, the county could expect around $2,500 per acre in property tax, an increase of more than $50,000 per year.
“We’re also talking about an additional at minimum of 50 net new jobs, and ya’ll are aware that manufacturing provides a wage that is well above the average wage in Dawson County,” she said.
The third example was John Megel Chevrolet, which Moore said had recently halted plans to build a used car facility due to the fees. The fee would have been around $10,000.
“This many not seem like much,” Moore said. “But it is an additional fee that honestly seems like a punishment to a business that has been actively investing in our community for years.”
Moore also said that the reduction would bring Dawson County more in line with its neighbors that do impose impact fees. Of the counties that touch Dawson, Lumpkin, Pickens, Fannin and Gilmer counties do not impose impact fees, but Cherokee, Forsyth and Hall counties as well as the city of Gainesville do.
She also said that the reduction would increase opportunity to create a more balanced property digest, as out of the property taxes Dawson County collected in 2018, 66 percent of those were collected for residential property.
In conclusion Moore said that the county only has about zero percent, or 70 acres, of industrial property.
“I know that that has been something that I’ve heard our commissioners are really interested in us pursuing those types of businesses, and unfortunately right now impact fees really impede us from doing that work,” she said.
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines, who voted against the impact fees in 2018, said that with the new hospital going in on Ga. 400 in Lumpkin County, Dawson has a great opportunity to attract medical office space that would be ancillary to that hospital, which would diversify the type of business and jobs in the county.
“We might not control what Etowah Water does, they have their own board, but we do control this,” Gaines said. “I think we need to take a good look at this and make sure we don’t miss out on some high-paying medical jobs that can revolve around the hospital that’s coming- that’s new news since we visited this before.”
The board could vote to reduce the impact fees at the Feb. 21 voting session, which begins at 6 p.m.