The Dawsonville city council is considering moving forward with a study to determine if they want to implement impact fees, or fees charged to new development in order to pay for services demanded by that new growth.
The council on Dec. 17 heard a presentation from Bill Ross of Ross and Associates, the same consulting company that created a study and impact fee schedule that was adopted by the county board of commissioners earlier this year.
The board of commissioners passed impact fees at the maximum allowable amount on Aug. 16, and have since collected over $380,000.
Ross said that if engaged by the city, his company would create a methodology report, or a study that forecasts future growth up to 2040 and selects the capital improvement projects that would be needed to support that growth, as well as details how much those projects would cost.
Ross presented growth projections based on the city’s growth between 2000 and 2017, wherein the city grew from fewer than 1,000 people to almost 2,800 in 2017. Based off that growth, Ross said the city could have between 5,000 and 10,000 people by 2040.
With the future growth in mind, Ross’ methodology report would calculate the maximum impact fees that the city could charge for each category of public service the city offers. The council could choose to adopt the maximum fee or reduce it to a smaller amount.
The goal of impact fees is to shift the burden from the tax base as a whole to just the new growth and development, so that everyone pays their fair share of capital improvements.
The public facilities that could benefit from the impact fees in the city potentially include water supply, treatments and distribution as well as wastewater collection, treatment and disposal, in addition to roads, streets and bridges and parks and recreation.
The funds generated could not be used to maintain services that already exist but to increase the capacity of those services. For example, road maintenance is not impact fee eligible, but adding turn lanes or more lanes to increase capacity of a road to carry traffic is impact fee eligible.
Also included in the study would be a Capital Improvements Element, which is a list of the projects the city would plan to fund using impact fees. Once the Capital Improvements Element was approved by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, it would be adopted by the city as an amendment to their comprehensive plan, which the council updated earlier this year.
The company would also draft an impact fee ordinance and fee schedule that the council would have to adopt.
Moving forward with the study would put the city under no obligation to adopt impact fees, though the city would still have to pay for the work performed.
“As we work with you through this entire process, you can stop at any time,” Ross said.
Mayor Mike Eason said he was concerned about the effect impact fees could have on small businesses, which is the kind of business Dawsonville has typically drawn.
Ross said that the city could adopt certain exemptions and define different kinds of businesses to give them a reduction in impact fees. A downside to exemptions would be that the city would have to reimburse the impact fee fund the amount that would have been brought in if an exempt business builds in the city.
Council member Jason Power asked if there was a way to measure the effect of impact fees on development in counties or cities that have put the fees in place.
Ross said the fees do not impact development, because the cost of impact fees is often just absorbed into the cost of development (either passed on to the home buyer or absorbed by the company).
“There are folks who have adopted impact fees with the thought that they were going to slow down growth; it’s never worked,” Ross said.
Speaking against the implementation of impact fees was Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Christie Moore.
Along with stating that any additional cost would be a burden to new homeowners in the county, whether purchasing a new home through a developer or building a new home themselves, Moore also advocated for small businesses, saying the fees could be detrimental to attracting the kind of business that the city is looking for.
“To be honest it puts you at a strategic advantage right now that you do not have impact fees,” Moore said. “We’re looking to attract business, every detail right now matters. Any advantage that you have as a city to build who we want, I think we shouldn’t add anything to deter that.”
Moore also reminded the council that the city’s largest source of income is sales tax, the lion’s share of which is generated in the Ga. 400 corridor. Moore also said that 85 percent of that money is generated by people who do not live in the county.
“If I was going to build a house I would much rather the money that we’re paying for our parks and our roads and everything else (come from) other people than me,” Moore said. “And I think that’s one of the amazing strengths we have as a community is that we get to take advantage of being that hub of north Georgia.”
Moore said that to her knowledge, the only city in any other counties surrounding Dawson County that has impact fees is Gainesville, which is home to over 40,000 people and has very different needs than Dawsonville.
“In Dawson County, between sales tax, between special purpose local option sales tax and the property tax that our businesses pay, business already carries the brunt of the tax burden in our community and I hope we can all celebrate that because it's a great thing, it's afforded us beautiful buildings and beautiful schools, but I think it's something to consider as we’re thinking through if we’re going to add another tax,” Moore said.
If the city engaged Ross’s firm, it would take six to seven months to create the impact fee study. A minimum of two public hearings are required before impact fees can be adopted.
“Without impact fees, the people who are here now will be paying taxes to build the facilities that they don’t need, that are needed only to serve future growth and development,” Ross said.
In other business:
The council voted to table a site plan change for a parcel located at the corner of Hwy. 9 and Perimeter Road near JC Burt Road, where a 102 unit residential development and a smaller commercial development are proposed. The application will go before the planning commission again on Jan. 14.
The council also voted to approve an ordinance to regulate non-stormwater discharges into the city’s stormwater system. Drafted by Planning Director Robbie Irvin, the ordinance gives the city an enforcement mechanism for pollutant discharges into the stormwater system and local waterways, which previously have only been enforceable at the state and federal level.
The council also held the first reading of an ordinance to establish how people will be appointed to the city’s various boards, commissions and authorities in the future. The second reading will be held Jan. 7.
The city is also looking to amend its charter, which Eason said had not been done in some time. The council will hold public hearings on the charter amendments at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 7 and Jan. 22. Among the items that could change include the establishment of an ethics board, the grounds and procedure for removal of an officer and increased compensation for the mayor and city council members.
The council voted 3-4 to authorize the public works department to survey Stonewall subdivision residents if they wish to have the city install speed humps within the subdivision. Stonewall resident and council member Stephen Tolson recused himself from the vote.
The council also voted unanimously to waive annexation fees for a period of 120 days with the intent to clean up unincorporated islands in the city. The city waived annexation fees last year and annexed several dozen properties, mainly in the Gold Creek subdivision.