City meets with church leaders to discuss fees

KINGMAN - Ministers from churches all over Kingman came out in force to Praise Chapel Tuesday afternoon. Around 22 ministers and church officials attended the meeting.

Kingman Mayor Les Byram and City Manager Paul Beecher had agreed to meet with the ministers to discuss the city's development investment fees. The meeting started at 3:30 p.m. and lasted for about two hours as the ministers argued their case for lower fees. The Rev. Howard Pennington, senior pastor of Praise Chapel, presented a chart listing development fees for the city of Apache Junction near Phoenix. According to the chart, Apache Junction breaks down its development investment fees into specific categories such as general retail/shopping center, fast food restaurants, offices, warehouses, single-family detached and church/synagogue.

Byram and Beecher restated the Council's answer for the last several weeks that Arizona Revised Statute states that all development investment fees must be applied equally across the board. There can be no discrimination in the way the fees are imposed, according to Arizona Revised Statute.

Council believes that all institutional organizations like churches - offices, medical offices, hospitals and nursing homes - have to pay the same development investment fee rate of around $2.48 per square foot of new building. Apache Junction's fees for churches are $2,375 per 1,000 square feet.

City Manager Paul Beecher explained that the theory behind the fees is that the community that existed in Kingman a few years ago had already paid for a significant amount of infrastructure. Any development happening after, those people should help to pay for the impact they are having on the community.

Development investment fees are different from property taxes. Property taxes are an annual thing, development fees are a one-time thing, Beecher said. Development fees help the city a lot but are not a reoccurring thing.

The fees are based on a number of things including the number of trips to the site on an average day. Churches usually have a higher number of trips than a light industrial enterprise.

Pennington pulled out some information the city of Phoenix posted on its Web site about development investment fees. The site states that the fees must be proportional to the demand placed on city infrastructure by the developments being assessed. Pennington and some of the other ministers argued that the churches really do not use that much of the water, sewer or transportation services provided by the city.

"It seems illogical that something that has less impact is taxed or feed at a higher, much higher rate than light industry that is open five or six days a week," said the Rev. Grif Vautier from Kingman Presbyterian Church.

Vautier said the churches were sympathetic to the city's cause but asked that the city give the churches the ability to effectively minister as non-profit organizations. Otherwise, the churches might have to look at other options like building outside of the city limits.

Byram said that Council understands the differences between the churches and businesses. The Council looked into the possibility of waiving the fees but Arizona Revised Statute prohibits it.

At one point, Beecher asked how many of the ministers in the room were considering expanding their church facilities. Nearly every hand in the room went up.

The city of Phoenix Web site also states that new developments should not have to pay twice for the same facilities. In other words, a development should not have to pay taxes toward a new wastewater facility and development fees for wastewater. Pennington said the same should apply to the churches. Many of the churches paid for city water, sewer and street improvements when they built their existing churches. Why should the churches have to pay for improvements twice?

"I know this is selfish but, why won't the city allow us the credit for that infrastructure that we've already built? We're getting popped twice," Pennington said.

"It's just such a constraining thing on our churches. What we're feeling from the city right now is that you know … churches really don't mean that much to us," he said.

Byram said that wasn't true. Pennington asked him to prove it by working with them. Pennington went on to say that Byram and Councilman Kerry Deering have called the churches mobs, Vice Mayor Dave French hung up on him during a phone call, and the last time he was at a City Council meeting, he went up to shake the hand of one councilman and he wouldn't even shake Pennington's hand.

"Now these are the people that represent us. And that's not you (Byram). These are the people we vote into position to represent us. And I'm not the only one mad here, and when I say mad, I mean angered at the fact we vote people into office, and once they get there, they don't even act like they know us or care about what we're doing or care about our enterprise. This is a pretty big voice of the people. My point is that we've got the mayor and the city manger here but not one City Council member here," he said.

Byram pointed out that there was never a time when he was discourteous to Pennington and Pennington agreed.

"But we don't take the Council meetings outside of the Council chambers. The city's business should be conducted inside the Council chambers," Byram said.

"I told you I would be here. We're here, and we have listened," he said.

Morton Tucker from St. John's United Methodist Church pointed out the fees for single-family residences and multi-family residents were much lower than the fees for institutions like churches. Single-family and especially multi-family residence have a much greater impact on the community, he said.

"We're going to get hit harder than a single-family dwelling and you even dropped the fees to $2,504 for a multi (-family) dwelling, which has a more of an impact than this building or probably any church building we have in this town. This just doesn't make any sense to me at all. We've got the infrastructure there. We've paid for it, and now you're saying no you haven't, now you're going to have to pay some more," he said.

Byram said it was because it was another building program, which impacts the community again.

The city needs to come up with some sort of reasoning or agreement with the churches and non-profits or they will just go away, Tucker said. And when they go away, they take their people with them a lot of the time.

"A lot of people are looking to Golden Valley, you know that, Les. They're looking at Golden Valley, and they go out there, and they'll build, and they'll build bigger, and they'll be done with it, and they're not going to pay your fees," Tucker said.

"There may be another way to skin this cat," Beecher said. He asked Ministerial Alliance to give him and the mayor a few weeks to look at some different angles and get back to them. One possibility would be to waive building and permit fees, which for churches can be almost as much as the development fees. The only issue is that building and permit fees help pay for inspections for new buildings and staff.

One minister suggested spreading out the payment of the fees over time.

Byram said the full Council would be informed about the discussion and the information the Ministerial Alliance had given to them. That Council would look at the information and look for more options.