Self-Imposed ‘Impact Fees’

By Beacon Staff

For years, the county has considered implementing impact fees on developers to help pay for public services stretched thin by growth. The partners for the Saddlehorn development in Bigfork charged themselves.

Last week, the Saddlehorn Foundation donated about $40,000 across 10 different local non-profits, including $10,000 to the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts for their remodeling efforts and $14,500 to Community for a Better Bigfork for work on the Whitney Riverfront Park, sidewalks and a Bigfork recycling center.

In 2007, the foundation’s first year, Saddlehorn donated about $46,000.

“Flathead County doesn’t have impact fees, but with the size of the development we felt we should still do something,” Doug Averill, one of the development’s partners, said. When finished, Saddlehorn will consist of 320 residential lots on 800 acres south of Bigfork.

Averill and his partners began assessing what basically amounts to a voluntary impact fee, legally requiring 0.5 percent of each lot sold to go to the foundation. A board made up of community members then gifts the monies annually to local non-profits. The donations will continue in perpetuity – each time a property is re-sold in the future, the same percentage fee will remain.

“The money is generated even in a bad economy – like everyone else, things have slowed down but when momentum is gained again, it will bring all the more,” Averill said. “It will be millions over time, I think.”

County Commissioner Joe Brenneman said he didn’t know of any other development in recent county history that’s made donations on the same scale.

“We have developers say we’ll pay whatever we have to – when you get the laws changed so that we have to pay it,” he said. “Here, we have an example of a developer saying ‘I’m part of the community and I’m willing to help and share.’”

Other recipients of this year’s grants include: $500 to Rotary District 5390 for bike paths; $2,000 to the Ravenwood Natural Science Center; $1,000 to the North Shore Nordic Ski Club for grooming and maintaining ski trails; $2,700 to L.E.A.P. for Life for after-school program scholarships; $500 to the Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation; $2,000 to Intermountain Children’s Home; $2,800 to Bigfork Young Life; and $2,000 to A.L.E.R.T. for air ambulance and advanced emergency rescue.