Transportation Impact Fees Headed for Elimination

By Beacon Staff

Two years after being enacted, transportation impact fees in Kalispell are close to being eliminated.

The Kalispell City Council voted 5-4 at a Jan. 23 meeting to carry a resolution that would discontinue the controversial transportation impact fee program. The council will make a final decision on Feb. 6.

In a stalled building environment, transportation impact fees have raised roughly $140,000 since their inception. If the program were eliminated, that amount would be reimbursed to developers who initially paid.

Mayor Tammi Fisher and councilors Tim Kluesner, Jeff Zauner, Phil Guiffrida III and Kari Gabriel voted in support of eliminating the impact fees, which were established in 2009 and charge developers for infrastructure and roads to help pay for new growth.

The decision to end transportation impact fees would go against the recommendation of the Impact Fee Committee, which voted unanimously to continue the program.

The council had discussed reducing the fees. But opponents of the program have called it anti-growth and said the fee hampers developers with an unfair and risky burden.

“The formula that is used to come up with transportation impact fees is flawed,” Fisher said. “We have a fatally flawed formula. It doesn’t make sense to continue it.”

“It’s our job to remove as many barriers to economic recovery as we can,” she added. “We all use the growth so we should all pay for it.”

Proponents of the fees argued that eliminating the program would only add more taxes for residents.

“We have no empirical evidence showing whatsoever that reducing or eliminating these fees is actually going to bring more work,” said Councilor Randy Kenyon, who opposed the motion along with Jim Atkinson, Bob Hafferman and Wayne Saverud.

“Once this fee is eliminated,” Kenyon added, “somebody is going to have to pay (for new roads).”

The fees have been one of the more contentious topics in Kalispell in recent years. The council voted 8-1 in March 2009 to impose transportation impact fees after debating the issue on and off for two years. Kluesner cast the lone dissenting vote.

Joe Unterreiner, president of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, expressed opposition to the impact fees and reiterated his opposition on Monday.

Pam Carbonari, a developer who was Kalispell’s mayor when the fees were enacted, spoke out in support of continuing the program, or reducing them or temporarily suspending them.

“I believe that part of what you need to look at is tools within the tool belt that help deal with growth when it does happen,” she said. “Impact fees are one way.”

Guiffrida brought the motion to completely eliminate the impact fees, saying now is the appropriate time to end the unsuccessful program.

“By eliminating this fee, we create a citywide business incentive,” he said.