IMPACT FEE LAWSUITS
By Terry Werner
March 10, 2003
On March 10th the Lincoln City Council has before us an annexation agreement between the City and Pine Lake Development, L.L.C. In the agreement Pine Lake Development is asked to pay the newly adopted impact fees to cover arterial roads, water, sewer and parks - a small portion of the actual cost due to the impact they are having on the city. The remainder will be paid by the citizens of Lincoln.
Simultaneously, the Infrastructure Planning Committee, of which I am a member, is about to recommend that our water and sewer rates be increased every year for the next five years, and possibly beyond, to borrow $225,000,000.00 of additional debt for new infrastructure in just the next twelve years. They are looking at many different tax options to pay for $700,000,000.00 in new roads over the next twelve years, including an occupation tax on gasoline at the pump, an increase in wheel tax, general obligation bonds which add to your property tax (a vote of the people), Highway Allocation bonds (not a vote of the people), additional sales tax on motor vehicles and many other ‘‘smoke and mirror'' ways to tax the people of Lincoln. There is even consideration of taking money away from the already strapped city budget to pay for new arterial roads in the new development areas.
How much of this money is going to maintain our current infrastructure? Maybe 25%. Whatever this committee recommends to the Mayor and City Council, in whatever fashion, the bottom line is that it is another way for the Citizens of Lincoln to pay for new development.
I believe that the costs should be borne by both the City as a whole and a portion by the new development areas. The Council passed the Impact Fee ordinance, which asks new development to pay a small portion of the actual cost. It is a fair and efficient plan. The development community believes they should not have to pay impact fees, the Council disagreed. I suspect that any form of financing the city''s offsite infrastructure needs would have been opposed.
Today I read in the paper that the Homebuilders Association of Lincoln is filing a lawsuit alleging that the `"City lacks the authority to levy them"'. (LJS, 3/1/03) This perplexes me. What is the real intent? Clearly, not to pay their "fair share"; and, of course, under the new ordinance I don''t believe they are. I believe they should be paying a portion of the additional cost for police and fire safety. They should be paying a portion for the additional cost for schools, libraries, community parks and swimming pools. There also is the $7,000 per household cost for Lincoln Electric System to add infrastructure. Additionally, the impact fee ordinance and further infrastructure planning is going to accelerate growth to an extent that the people of Lincoln have never before seen. I don''t believe people really understand what is about to happen to Lincoln.
This leads me to March 10th. If the Council approves this first annexation agreement under the impact fee ordinance and the fees are found not to be legal in Nebraska, then the people of Lincoln will be stuck paying for this portion of the developer''s cost. In this case, it is a small project and amounts to only $3- or $400,000.00. I suspect Lincoln can absorb this. However, if this law suit goes on for one, two, five or ten years, how many more projects must the taxpayer bear? At some point in the future could taxpayers be stuck for millions of dollars? This could shut our city down and raise our taxes tremendously. Or, should the Council just say that we will not approve anymore annexation agreements or projects until the court settles this matter. I, as your Councilperson, do not wish to jeopardize this city''s financial future.
I have another solution, call off the attorneys. Lets move forward together with the solution in hand and begin working on other problems such as the time projects take in the approval process. We have too much at stake and I believe most of the development community would agree, it is counterproductive to waste time and money in the courts. It is time to come together and work together for the good of the community.