Should developers be required to pay a fee to help offset the impact new homes and businesses have on roads?
That’s what La Plata County is considering through the implementation of a “transportation impact fee.”
“I think it’s really important we look at this as a source of revenue,” Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said last week.
In Colorado, local governments are allowed to charge a one-time fee – usually collected at the time of issuing a building permit – that must go toward a fund for road improvements and maintenance.
Many communities take advantage of the impact fee. For residential development, Montezuma County charges anywhere from $500 to $2,810, depending on the size of the home, Archuleta County charges $574 to $818 and the city of Durango charges $2,029 to $3,709.
La Plata County, however, has never implemented the impact fee.
But a need to maintain county roads, and a lack of money to do it, has La Plata County officials deciding whether to institute the fee in 2020.
La Plata County maintains 220 miles of paved roads and another 440 miles of gravel road. In 2017, a study determined county roads are in relatively good condition. But roads can deteriorate quickly, and it costs more to let a road fall to ruin and have to completely repair it than provide regular maintenance.
As the county budget has dwindled over the past decade, officials say they are running out of money to perform regular maintenance. And with voters turning down two ballot measures in recent years that would have raised taxes to fund roads, county officials are looking for other ways to cover costs.
Commissioner Julie Westendorff said a transportation impact fee placed on new homes or businesses would help shift the burden to the developer.
“If you don’t have an impact fee, there’s still a cost,” she said. “Someone is going to pay for it, either the new development or the taxpayer.”
La Plata County hired a contractor, RPI Consulting, to explore options for implementing the fee locally.
RPI Consulting representatives told commissioners in a work session last week that estimates show the county will need to spend around $22.5 million on road projects over the next 10 years. In a draft transportation impact fee structure, the new charge would cover about $9.5 million.
The draft structure would place a fee of $1,129 to $4,209 on new homes, depending on size. And, it would charge anywhere from $1,896 to $5,773 on new businesses.
RPI Consulting representatives said transportation impact fees can be tailored to a community’s needs, charging in some places and not in others. And it’s never a complete solution for local governments covering the cost of road projects.
The fee has pros and cons, company officials said.
It makes sure existing development does not subsidize new development, and it provides adequate roads, which are essential for new development. It also has local support: Six communities said in their district plans that new development should pay its own way.
But transportation impact fees can fluctuate with the construction/development market, making it a sometimes unreliable source of revenue. And the impact fees place another financial burden on new development, which may or may not deter growth in the community.
Commissioners directed staff and RPI Consulting to refine the plan, with a meeting scheduled in January to further discuss the topic.
Jim Davis, public works director, said the county would like to have some version of the transportation impact fee adopted by late March or early April.