Dawson County could see a drastic decline in development over the coming years after the board of commissioners voted 3-1 last week to reinstate impact fees at the maximum possible rate.
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 will 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.
To help determine what fees the county could potentially charge, the board hired Bill Ross of Ross & Associates back in June 2017 to update the county’s fee schedule, which was suspended in 2009.
Ross researched the projected growth of the county (50,000 county residents by 2040, compared to 24,000 currently) and how much new demand the growth will place on services. The cost of capital projects that county staff have determined necessary to fit that demand is used to create the impact fee schedule.
Maximum impact fees for a single family home are $3,372 per dwelling; $1,860 per 1,000 square feet for a specialty retail center; $1,039 per 1,000 square feet for an office building; $680 per 1,000 square feet for a manufacturing building; $8,050 per 1,000 square feet for a fast food restaurant and $461 per room for a hotel.
These are just six out of around 70 land use categories listed on the impact fee schedule.
The board held the second of two required public hearings on the maximum fee schedule Aug. 16, the first having been held Aug. 2.
Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Christie Haynes Moore spoke during the hearing and asked the board to consider adopting the fees at 25 percent or less of the maximum amount for at least the first year.
“The chamber exists to be a champion of business,” Moore said. “Tonight I am speaking to you directly about the fees that we're looking at for the business sector. Our chamber is very concerned that a move from zero impact fees to the maximum impact fees will have an overnight change in our community into one that is perceived as anti-business.”
Moore said that she had heard the board mention many times over the past few years a wish for a diversification in the local economy, with higher paying jobs in technology, medical and light industry, and that the chamber agrees with that desire.
However Moore said that the chamber believes levying max impact fees will add one more barrier of difficulty to attracting those higher paying jobs.
“Adding large impact fees on incoming businesses will give companies one more reason to choose to locate somewhere else,” Moore said. “While the intention of these fees may be to help slow some of the national chain growth, the companies that it will impact the worst are the small businesses- the family owned stores who have dreamed their whole lives of opening a business. It will affect all of them regardless of where their home base is.”
Adopting the 25 percent of the maximum allowable fees will put Dawson County much more in line with neighboring counties that currently levy impact fees, Moore said.
According to numbers collected by Moore, the fees are higher than those currently enacted in Hall County, Gainesville, Forsyth County and Cherokee in every category except for single family residences in Forsyth County, which are about $500 more per dwelling compared to Dawson County, and office buildings in Cherokee County, which are $41 more per 1,000 square feet.
Pickens, Gilmer, Lumpkin and Fannin counties, the other counties that touch Dawson, do not currently charge impact fees.
“In fact, all three counties that do charge impact fees, Hall, Forsyth and Cherokee, all have a population that exceeds 190,000 in comparison to our population between 23,000 and 24,000,” Moore said.
“While the intention of these fees may be to help slow some of the national chain growth, the companies that it will impact the worst are the small businesses- the family owned stores who have dreamed their whole lives of opening a business."Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Christie Haynes Moore
After Moore spoke, District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett made a motion to adopt the proposed impact fees at the maximum rate. District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix seconded the motion.
District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines said he was in favor of adopting the fees at 25 percent.
“I’m very cautious about this, one single decision can have a ripple effect across our community in multiple different ways,” Gaines said. “This year alone we’ve had over a $1 million increase in LOST revenue that is driven by the businesses that are on Ga. 400. We have said over and over again that we want to attract higher paying wages, this is simply putting another roadblock.
“I agree that we need to have them on some level, but to me, for a medical dental office in Forsyth to be $227 per 1,000 square feet and we’re proposing going to $2,420? It’s a major difference and that will be a game changer for any developer looking to bring a high-quality business to Dawson County.”
District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Hamby asked if the board could start at the top, or adopt the maximum fee now and work down to smaller fees, as the board could vote to change the schedule at any time.
Gaines said it could be done, but didn’t advise it.
“I think the danger with that is it sends a message immediately that we are anti-business and then not only are we having to work our way back down from the top we’re also trying to work out way out of a PR situation that in the region people say ‘Dawson County is not interested in business,’” Gaines said.
Fausett said she didn’t think that was the message that would be relayed.
“I think if somebody comes in here and they really impact things that the citizens shouldn’t have to pay for it, whoever comes in here should have to pay for what they do, that’s how I see it,” she said. “I don’t think we should shift it to somebody else. It should be on those businesses that come in and impact things.
Thurmond said he agreed with Gaines and Moore.
“I think it would be in the best interest to start the business categories at 25 percent and we have that opportunity if we see there is no impact, to raise those because we do want to diversity our business,” Thurmond said.
Gaines tried one last time to argue his case.
“I think it's a known fact that residential is where our true service costs lie,” he said. “The ability to apply a 25 percentage on fire and roads and 100 percent on library and parks, we still are collecting on residential a substantial amount of money that we’re not collecting in the past, because residential is the one that relies on most of our services. The business is what’s generating the LOST revenue that we all appreciate that helps keep our taxes down. Without them here our property millage rate would be twice what it is.”
Nix said she had hoped for more feedback from the public on the proposed fees.
“I would just like to say we’ve been working on this process a year and this is the first time we’ve had this type of discussion,” she said. “It’s a lot, I just wish there had been more feedback, we’ve had this a month and people have had time to call, to look.”
The board voted 3-1 with Gaines opposed to adopt the fees at the maximum amount.
The impact fee schedule as well as a more detailed explanation, view the Impact Fee Methodology Report presented by Bill Ross. The maximum fee schedule is on pages 7 and 8.