Council to revisit impact fees

Byram sees opportunity to help out non-profits, churches; review is past due

KINGMAN - The mayor has announced that the city will review impact fees and see if something can be done to lower costs to developers, given the recent market lull.

In particular, Mayor Les Byram said he would like to try and help local churches and non-profits, who currently pay $2.48 per square foot - about $1 less than for office space and $2.80 less than commercial development.

A local pastor and one of the biggest critics of the city charging impact fees to churches, Howard Pennington, described the announcement as "too little too late."

And according the city's own policy, Pennington is correct, but when he made that statement, Pennington wasn't referring to the requirements of the ordinance, he was expressing his opinion of why the city is making this move.

"I'm glad that they're doing it, and not just for my sake. I'm glad for the sake of all the churches that will grow ...," he said. "(But) I don't think it fixes the corruptness of what's going on in our city."

According to its policy, the city is late in reviewing impact fees, although one staff member has said the review was already conducted.

The ordinance created by the city in March of 2006 states, "At least once every year and prior to City Council adoption of the annual budget and capital improvements program, the City shall coordinate a review of all the development investment fees to ensure each fee continues to be assessed in accordance with ARS 9-463.05 and in accordance with this ordinance."

Council has already approved the final budget and capital improvements plan for the next fiscal year, meaning the city has violated its own law.

The fees, according to the ordinance, also "shall be adjusted" at least once every year "to account for inflationary increases in the cost of providing public facilities," the Consumer Price Index and several other factors as applicable.

Byram said he personally "had not gone back and looked it up," but that he only knew "that there was some procedure for reviewing the development fees."

"Does it say that it shall be reviewed or that it could be reviewed?" Byram asked. According to the ordinance, it "shall" be reviewed.

"Well," Byram said, "I guess the review would be whether the Council would want to consider it, and I don't know whether we ... that it was mentioned while we were discussing the budget two or three months ago. I don't remember anyone suggesting that we wanted to do a review."

Definition of 'review' varies

According to Finance Director Coral Loyd, "The fees were reviewed during budget and CIP discussions, and based on the current construction economy, they were left at current rates; no increases," she wrote in an e-mail Friday. "There was no oversight; they were reviewed and left at the current level."

She wrote Friday evening, stating that the discussion of revenues and estimated increases/decreases "was the annual review." It "was intended to be a Council-level review during budget discussions of actual revenues, budgeted revenues, economic conditions, etc. A formal records request will not provide you with any further information."

Councilman Kerry Deering said he doesn't recall conducting a review that covered the factors outlined in the ordinance.

"I just remember Coral (Loyd) ... she gave a budget thing and basically talked about revenues from the impact fees, and she said, I want to say, they fell below the 50th percentile compared to other cities," Deering said. "But I don't recall getting into a damn thing about 'we compared them to the Consumer Price Index'" or other adjustments.

Councilman Tom Spear said that the "review" was a report from city staff on how much money the city received from the impact fees. "We did review it - from the revenue-generating standpoint, and the mayor has asked us to look at it from the standpoint if they're in line, taking into consideration the inflation index," Spear said.

Deering said the city manager told him that it's also required that a third-party consultant aid in the city's review of the fees.

A second look at impact fees

"The whole issue of impact fees, categories of where things are placed, etc., is more complicated than can be dealt with in a conversation," City Manager Paul Beecher wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. "In an effort to educate and take a look at our structure at the same time, I plan to put a committee together to look at them again, along with our original consultant, Red Oak, and report back to the Council some time in August.

"There is sincere desire amongst the Council to look at how we deal with churches and non-profits. The law requires that we charge them, and as both I and the Council told Howard (Pennington) last year, that if they want them exempt, they would have to get the law changed. We will look at putting them in a different category that might lower their fees, but because of the way things are structured, it would probably raise some other category."

This is not the first time the city has violated its own ordinance. On May 7, development services staff requested that City Council pass a major amendment to the General Plan, the land use designation map for Kingman. The city's own request did not meet the requirements of its General Plan. The request lacked an analysis showing the need for more commercial land, data on existing and planned commercial sites, impacts on adjacent properties and assessments of traffic circulation resulting from the land map change - all requirements of passing a major amendment, according to the ordinance.

Also in early May, the city released about 2,400 e-mails to Pennington's son, Travin, following a public records request. Nearly 7,000 pages were not released, and 4,000 of them were personal, according to the city. This, the city manger later said, was probably excessive use of personal e-mail at work.

The city's electronic communication policy allows "limited personal use," and states that employees shall "have no expectation of privacy," e-mails should be used "in a responsible manner, consistent with the work-related, professional and educational purposes" of the city, and they "shall withstand public scrutiny without embarrassment to the city."

Byram provides impetus for review

Howard Pennington has been among several residents who've spoken out against the city manager and what many consider a general lack of transparency in government activities.

"I don't feel like they're doing me a favor, I feel like they're doing what was right in the first place," he said.

Byram responded to Pennington's comments, saying those weren't the sentiments expressed in a personal meeting last week with the pastor.

"I have met with him and told him that it was my doing, that I suggested to the Council that we do a review," Byram said.

"I can't help what anybody says, but this is my suggestion. ..."

Pennington has a 55,000-square-foot addition planned for Praise Chapel, and the church has already invested around $100,000, he said, but due to the development fees he would be charged, around $250,000, Pennington has since pulled back the reins on the project.