Move to dump Wicomico impact fees clears hurdle

In an effort to attract more builders to Wicomico County while boosting the economy, the County Council this morning voted to introduce legislation to repeal impact fees.

A public hearing is set for Oct. 4 and will be held before the Council votes on the legislation.

Money from the fees – about $5,400 per home – has traditionally been earmarked to benefit county schools, but County Executive Bob Culver said schools will be funded, regardless.

In three years, taxes paid by new county residents will make up the amount of the initial impact fee, he said.

“And taxes are reoccurring forever and ever. I’d rather have them build here and let me recoup the taxes year after year,” Culver said.

“If we really needed impact fees, I would be the first one to suggest it, but we don’t. We have our strongest savings account, our largest employment. We’re going to have a great number going to the bond hearing. But that doesn’t mean we will spend like drunken sailors,” he said.

Culver said Wicomico County government “is being run like a business now.”

“This is how we do it at home. We don’t buy anything unless we have the money. That’s how our government is being run,” he said.

Councilman Larry Dodd said he’s heard from several constituents in favor of repealing impact fees to stimulate the economy.

“A lot of educators are supporting it. There was some concern about education, but education is going to be funded, no matter how you look at it,” Dodd said.

Council President John Cannon said he knows builders who are heading to Sussex County instead of staying in Wicomico because “there are fewer barriers there.”

“We are trying to create this incentive in Wicomico,” Cannon said.

Councilman Joe Holloway said there’s a demand to put people back to work and he hopes “if the price goes down, the demand for houses might increase.”

Cannon said the fees “cause restriction for development and growth and you’re sort of punishing first-time home buyers.”

“It’s supposed to be fair to impose the impact fees but if someone buys a home that was previously occupied, they could be moving to Wicomico and putting just as many children into the school system and yet they aren’t being charged. It seems like an inequity,” Cannon said.

During the Public Comments portion of the Council meeting, Donnie Messick of Messick Home Improvements in Salisbury thanked the Council for wanting to repeal the fees.

Before the downturn in the economy, his company employed 30, but now only employs 10, he said.

There are 60 unimproved lots in the Steeple Chase development. The county receives about $300 in property tax from each, but if homes were built on those lots, the county would realize about $3,000 for each, he said.

Lee Outten, former president of the Fruitland Town Council, said that town placed a moratorium on impact fees “at a time when there were many empty lots.”

“The Town Council knew the impact fees were important, but realized half a loaf is better than none,” he said, adding if Wicomico passes legislation to repeal, the law will mesh with Fruitland’s regulations.

Dodd said the recently passed state bill to require sprinklers in all new homes has increased cost to builders and “put a big dent in their funding.”

“I think this is going to help them,” Dodd said.

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