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DEBATE MAY HAVE IMPACT ON ASSESSMENT OF FEES

SHARE DEBATE MAY HAVE IMPACT ON ASSESSMENT OF FEES

It seems only fair that immigrants who dilute Utah's native population at the rate of several thousand people per year pay for the new and sudden burden they create on schools, roads and parks.

Or does it?That's the debate that will occur over the next few months as legislators try to outlaw or limit impact fees - special local taxes that are levied more and more frequently nowadays on new houses in Utah.

Demographers expect Utah's population to increase by more than 50,000 people each year between now and 2020, much of the growth fueled by those moving into the state from elsewhere.

Opponents portray the impact-fee issue as one in which average Utahns are barred from climbing the real-estate ladder of their choice. Impact-fee proponents, however, say intervention from the Legislature would be a classic case of local-taxation rights being inappropriately monkeyed with by an over-meddling state government.

"Homeownership is part of the American dream; it lends stability to a family," said Rep. Kevin Garn, R-Layton, who wants to stop the trend of impact fees. "If we take it away, we're going to create a whole host of social problems."

Garn plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would target the Park City School District's enactment this year of a one-time $3,393 impact fee it collects on every new primary residence. (Secondary homes used only part of the year pay an $848 impact fee.)

Depending on location and home size, the cost of getting a residential building permit in Summit County can now exceed $5,000 once water, sewer and other assessments are levied.

"If fees are allowed to proliferate like they're doing, young people and families will no longer have an opportunity to buy a home in this state," said Garn, who says Davis County constituents have written him to complain they can't afford to develop lots they own in Summit County.

That's just the price of progress, argues the other side.

"Our governor's been back in Washington telling the feds to leave us alone as a state to make our own determinations . . . our argument to the state is the same," said Don Fielder, Park City's school superintendent. "Leave Summit County alone to work as a group together to do what we think is right."

The fastest-growing school district in the state expects in the next 20 years to build $110 million worth of new classrooms to keep up with growth that will see the 3,000-student system grow by an average of 7 percent annually during that time.

Fielder said $20 million of the construction money will come from impact fees, the rest from bond issues and property taxes levied evenly around the district.

"We've been extremely fair in the development of these fees," he said.

Support for impact fees among already ensconced residents of the area is virtually unanimous, according to surveys conducted by the school district.

"It's very obvious people here want those coming from Chicago, California and Atlanta to pay their way," said Fielder, who points to unanimous endorsements from the school board, the City Council and the Summit County Commission.

The topic is not peculiar to Summit County.

Virtually the entire and politically powerful education community of Utah is behind the concept, endorsing it as one way to help classroom supply keep up with demand. Municipalities are also on the bandwagon, more likely than ever now to impose impact fees of one kind or another, usually on top of other substantial building taxes.

Sandy, an average suburban example, adds a $425 parks-and-recreation impact fee to the typical $1,000 home-construction permit, which is also accompanied by a $1,170 water-connection fee for a three-quarter-inch line or $2,078 for a one-inch hookup.

Utah County cities like American Fork and Spanish Fork collect a similar combination of construction taxes, the idea is catching on in the St. George area and Orem is considering imposing impact fees. Opponents fear the phenomenon will get out of hand, which they say is the case in Las Vegas, where new homes are now assessed a fee to help protect endangered desert tortoise habitat.

Besides Garn, the anti-impact-fee lobby has a legislative ally in Sen. Al Mansell, R-Sandy, who plans on proposing what he said would be a "less arbitrary way" of imposing fees.

"One problem I see is we have a tendency as government to look at where we can raise funds and then go to the people who will scream the least," said Mansell.

"The newcomers aren't there to fight yet."

While Mansell is deeply vested in the real-estate industry as president of Mansell and Associates, a Salt Lake company that touts itself as the biggest independent residential realty broker in Utah, he insists his involvement in the impact-fee fray is motivated by other interests.

"I'm representing the home purchaser . . . my interest is in helping keep Utah housing prices down, and every time we put an impact fee on, it raises them higher," said Mansell.

He said that while he is not flatly opposed to all such fees, he thinks there should be limits.

He and Garn say, too, that school districts and municipalities can raise property taxes if they need more revenue - a move critics say would be met with stiff resistance by established homeowners.