2007-09-12 / Opinions

Residents should support county using impact fees

Dear Editor,

The discussions [Aug. 29] regarding proffers and impact fees is something that has needed to take place in Chesterfield County for some time. That developers and some property owners will "cry foul" is a given.

Proffers, as authorized in the Virginia Code, are to be "voluntary." Yet, what proposed development is ever approved without the developer "volunteering" to pay several million dollars in proffers at the county's stated rate? The short answer is none.

Is the proffer really voluntary? Or, has the state merely empowered local governments to engage in legal bribery?

Impact fees are, on the other hand, "monies collected through a set schedule, spelled out in a local ordinance, levied only against new development, to support infrastructure needed to serve new development and to cover a proportionate share of an identified portion of that infrastructure" (2006, National Impact Fee Roundtable presentation). Thus, impact fees are neither voluntary or "negotiable," somewhat like taxes.

However, the real benefit of impact fees is the locality, i.e. local governing body, can structure them to provide a predetermined methodology that enables both the county and the developer to fairly easily calculate the fees applicable to a particular development proposal. The fee structure can also specifically provide for waivers, exemptions or credits, based on past or future contributions of the newly developed properties. Specific "planning driven" objectives, such as affordable housing or economic development purposes, enable the county to achieve specified goals by providing a credit against the impact fee for properties developed in a way to help the county meet such objectives.

For new developments, impact fees are the proper direction for Chesterfield County. This will enable the county to, over time, move away from "legalized bribery" toward a "charge for service" methodology for financing infrastructure needs. Are impact fees the "silver bullet" to solve all of the county's growth related problems? No. They are "one small step" in the right direction, however.

Bob Herndon


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