Districts balk at impact fee IGA

Moving closer in an attempt to normalize a local impact fee structure, representatives from Archuleta County, the Town of Pagosa Springs, PAWSD, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD), the Pagosa Fire Protection District, Archuleta School District 50 Joint and the Upper San Juan Health Services District met Monday morning for what has been called the “Community Economic Roundtable” (CER).

The CER began meeting June of last year to develop an intergovernmental agency (IGA) between the various local organizations, such that all taxing entities within Archuleta County would work from a standardized formula for a “rational nexus” (i.e. the connection between the impact created and the resulting fee collected). Contentious at times, the CER met several times during 2008 and into 2009, navigating the needs and necessities of the various organizations.

When the CER met in late August of last year, representatives for the county and the town recommended using Economic Planning Systems (EPS) to research growth trends, then use those numbers to calculate appropriate fee structures. However, at the Aug. 25 CER meeting, PAWSD and SJWCD expressed opposition to using EPS due to disagreements with growth projections from a 2006 study provided by EPS.

At Monday’s meeting, Karen Wessels, speaking for PAWSD and SJWCD, articulated the two organizations’ problem with using state demographics in the proposed EPS study, saying, “Our issue is that seasonal units are not calculated in the state demographic numbers,” as well as the exclusion of Equivalent Units (EU) — a calculation of actual water used rather than previous square-footage calculations — into potential EPS projections.

In fact, SWJCD stipulated three conditions for participation in the study: inclusion of EUs, incorporation of its own demographic data into the study (in tandem with state demographic data) and having those conditions included into the drafted IGA.

Speaking on conference call to the CER on Monday, Andy Knudsen of EPS assured Wessels that EPS would consider PAWSD’s and SJWCD’s position but said, “My concern is that we’re being asked to accept data prior to determining the methodology.”

According to PAWSD Executive Director Carrie Weiss, a call from Knudson on Tuesday did little — if nothing — to ameliorate the conflicting positions.

“I talked with Andy, briefly,” Weiss said, “and I think I was clear about where we stand. I pointed him to our Web site and that’s where it ended.”

Knudson refused comment despite repeated calls by The SUN to the EPS office.

Having received a Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant to fund 50 percent of the study, various taxing entities participating in the CER have their funding portion covered by the grant, with the town and county paying the majority of the cost for the study. PAWSD and SWJCD elected not pay for any portion of the study, however.

With the Archuleta County School District 50 Joint voting to participate in the IGA (and providing a share of funds for the study), PAWSD and SJWCD remain the lone holdouts.

“It’s premature to state what EPS, PAWS and the SJWCD will decide,” County Administrator and IGA architect Greg Schulte said, adding, “I’m confident we can work this out. I’m very optimistic.”

Weiss, however, for her part, reserved comment on whether EPS would indeed meet the demands held by PAWSD and SJWCD.

Given the potential impact a normalized impact fee structure could have on development and the local economy, there should be little surprise that discussions during the CER meeting continually dovetailed back to economic issues.

County commissioner John Ranson asked, “How far down do we have to go before we do something? We’ve been reactive — we need to be proactive. We’ve been hearing a lot of frustration,” he added.

“I’m sorry to say this, but what we need is leadership,” said Joanne Irons, representing the school board. “There’s a lot more we could be doing.”

Unfortunately, for area families and businesses, what local governments (and other taxing entities) can do is far from clear. A proposed merger of county and town building and planning that would have potentially encouraged development by simplifying permitting processes, was first enervated by town council to the point of near irrelevance, then finally killed.

Somewhat similar in scope, in that a normalization of impact fees could provide developers with a fee structure that is both reasonable and free of surprises, the proposed IGA could nurture development by helping local taxing entities find the lowest possible impact fee for builders and developers, in a time when the local community is scrambling to build something out of a moribund economic situation.