Water districts urged to participate in impact fee study

As Archuleta County officials have continually prodded two local water districts to participate in an updated Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. (EPS) impact fee study, one has now agreed, while the other isn’t sure.

During its regular monthly meeting Monday morning, the San Juan Water Conservancy District Board of Directors discussed a long-awaited EPS proposal at length, before finally voting to participate in the community venture, both cooperatively and financially. The board ultimately agreed to pay up to $4,719 as its share of the $37,150 update.

Just last month, the district board voted against contributing funding, but agreed to provide revised cost estimates for future capital projects, including those associated with a proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir. Monday’s action effectively rescinded the board’s January decision.

The most recent move came about when, a couple of years ago, following more than a decade of unprecedented growth in the county and Pagosa Springs, the town looked at how best to maintain quality services, while requiring new development to pay its fair share of infrastructure costs. The analysis resulted in the creation of various impact fees imposed on all new construction.

Archuleta County, meanwhile, feared too many impact fees might actually discourage development, and pushed for community-wide cooperation in determining what fees developers could live with. That led to the formation of a community economic roundtable comprised of all local taxing entities, including governments and special districts.

As roundtable negotiations progressed, participants expressed interest in pursuing a new impact fees study by EPS, similar to one it completed in 2006.

The 2006 study was designed to aid the town and county in creating a joint impact fee program that would be fair, while avoiding duplication of one-time fees assessed against new development. At the time, the SJWCD participated in the study (and its cost), even though EPS ultimately failed to consider certain circumstances relevant to district long-term capital projects, including Dry Gulch.

Nevertheless, the district board agreed to participate in the new study earlier this week, collectively expressing the belief that, “it’s the right thing to do.”

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors, meanwhile, has declined to contribute funding to the EPS study all along, citing its own ongoing and expensive revision of capital projects cost estimates. In fact, because PAWSD cannot legally collect impact fees, the board believes the study would be of little use to the district, particularly when the 2006 study assumed growth projections wildly contradictory to those district engineering consultants predicted.

Attending a PAWSD monthly meeting Tuesday night, county planning director Rick Bellis pitched the district board once again, asking its cooperation in the planned study. He mentioned that a Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant was at hand, and the district would only have to commit $1,500 as its share of the total expense.

“PAWSD has said it would not participate financially, but would provide its numbers,” said district manager Carrie Weiss. “I thought it was clear. I feel like we’re being painted into a corner.”

Bellis had asked the district for a financial commitment on previous occasions, and even suggested the forthcoming DOLA grant would likely pay the entire cost of the study. However, while the partial grant is not yet in hand, Bellis assured PAWSD officials that it would cover half the study, resulting in a reduced district share that would go a long way in buying community good will.

Some board members seemed open to the idea, while others were not too sure. In the end, the board voted to table the matter until Bellis could seek changes in the scope of the EPS study that might make it more amenable to district needs.

While Bellis and other roundtable members hope to give EPS the go-ahead for its study in early March, a final PAWSD decision may not be achievable until its next meeting, scheduled for March 24. In the meantime, the status of local development-related impact fees remains unclear.

chuck@pagosasun.com