After nearly three years, multiple compromises, strange coalitions, more regressive taxation, and imperfect legislation we are set to vote on impact fees. I suspect that by the time this is printed (if it is) the vote will already have been taken. I will have already voted to pass this legislation.
Is this perfect legislation? No. Could the Council have made it better by delaying it? Maybe, but still not likely achieving consensus of the entire community. Many people argue that we have rushed the process. They say that we should wait until the infrastructure finance committee finishes their work. Yet some of these same people did not wait for the ‘whole picture’ to raise water rates on the entire community. A part of the ‘puzzle’ that went to finance new infrastructure in the three year plan.
When it is said that this is a decision being rushed into, I am amazed. This process has been going on for nearly three years! There should not be one Councilperson who has not thoroughly studied this legislation, and if there is then shame on them. Multiple groups of citizens have participated in this process; developers, builders, neighborhood organizations, the Chamber of Commerce, elected officials and city staff (who deserve medals). Compromises were made by all parties. Now the City Council has the choice of tearing apart the three year process or moving forward with the vote. I am unconvinced that there is anything to gain by delaying and I have spent the last six weeks reaching out and listening to all sides. This boils down to a simple philosophical matter of who pays what and how.
I believe that the development community should pay a portion of the new cost of growth, and, by the way, so do they. Lincoln is lucky to have a development community that really cares and is willing to do their part. Yes, this does shift the cost from the developer to the homebuilder and ultimately to the homeowner. Is this fair? Does this create a burden to the homebuilders? The answer is maybe and yes.
In my mind though, there needs to be a change in how new infrastructure is paid for. Any time there is a change, there will be an adjustment period. This Administration has made a commitment to new infrastructure, and growth has been tremendous in the last four years. I believe that commitment will continue. Impact fees will not stop growth, they will enhance growth. This will give the development community a predictable, time-saving method of planning projects. It will accelerate the building of infrastructure so that development can occur faster, thereby allowing for more competition and lower prices.
What the Infrastructure Finance Committee is working on is how we finance the remainder of our infrastructure needs. The plan for the next six years calls for $750,000,000.00 worth of road projects alone (totally ludicrous in my mind), granted some of which will be paid for by the federal and state governments. Still tax dollars I might add. Of that total, impact fees will pay just over $14,000,000.00, leaving us short $350,000,000.00. It is obvious that our task is much larger than impact fees.
How will we fill the infrastructure ‘gap’? It will be filled with bonding which will require increased water and sewer rates. An occupation tax on gasoline will be considered. A wheel tax increase will possibly play a part, along with other creative new tax ideas. Taxes will be raised no matter how politicians describe it. In short the entire community will pay most of the cost for new arterial streets, water and sewer, and neighborhood parks. In addition the community will pay all of the cost for additional police and fire protection, libraries, swimming pools, community parks, maintenance, schools and public transit. We can not afford to debate impact fees any longer, we must work together to solve the larger problem.
We must come together as one community. Lincoln has always had healthy debate, but we must not let our differences affect the larger goal that we all share, a great community for today and into the future.