On The Agenda: Impact Fees Work Session

By Beacon Staff

With the budget out of the way, Kalispell City Council continues to chip away at another major issue: implementing transportation impact fees. At a 7 p.m. work session tonight, at which no formal votes are allowed, the city’s impact fee advisory committee will brief the city council on its recommendations for assessing the fees. Kalispell’s major developers and business community are likely to turn out tonight as well, to dispute the size and methodology of the impact fees.

An impact fee is a one-time charge by the city to new developments to pay for the new services required. Impact fees are already in place for police, fire, water, sewer and drainage systems, but the traffic impact fees are intended to pay for the road improvements surrounding a new development to accommodate the increase in traffic that new development will create. In the cases of the new shopping centers going up in north Kalispell, those developers will pay more money than, say, the traffic impact fee assessed on a new house, because a grocery story will generate more traffic than a residence.

Mayor Pam Kennedy and City Manager Jim Patrick have been meeting with the developers at the Chamber of Commerce in sessions that are sometimes open to the public, and sometimes closed. Developers have been objecting to the methodology by which the traffic impact fees are calculated. In the case of a massive commercial and residential development like the Glacier Town Center, the impact fee could be hundreds of thousands, if not millions. The developers say assessing the fees in the middle of projects already under construction unfairly tacks on massive expenses that weren’t budgeted for when the projects were approved for financing. They also argue that the transportation impact fees charge developers for road improvements in parts of Kalispell, like the west side, unaffected by new development on the north side, a violation of state law. At a meeting in early September, the developers made clear Kalispell’s current proposed transportation impact fee language can very easily be challenged in court, but the developers would rather work together on the language than resort to litigation.

The city, on the other hand, is feeling serious pressure to get the impact fees implemented, as they have been under deliberation for almost two years, and in that time, the city has missed out on the chance to assess the fees during the peak of Kalispell’s development. At a time when the city government has had to lay off staff and rein in city services in order to balance the budget, the transportation impact fees could prove a key piece in funding much-needed road improvement projects. Tonight’s work session should reveal whether the city is close to making any decisions and voting in the near future, or if the stalemate will result in the council kicking the issue down the road another couple of months to reach some type of compromise with developers.

Also tonight, at 6 p.m., city council will meet in a closed executive session to discuss a personnel issue.

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