EPHRAIM—After the Ephraim City Council passed three of the four ordinances on impact fee increases without serious comments from the public, the fourth ordinance, dealing with parks and recreation impact fees, sparked vigorous discussion and debate.
Impact fees are one way a municipality can deal with future growth. As cities grow, those new residents will need new roads, new sewer systems, new culinary water and new parks. If a city charges new residents an impact fee when they build a new home, then “growth is funding growth,” rather than have existing city residents pay for the expenses to increase the infrastructure.
The council explained to the citizens at the meeting (and online) the reason the city had chosen to increase the impact fees at this time. “Ephraim is growing, and fast,” Mayor John Scott said. “We know it will cost lots of money to add new homes to our town; in water, sewer, roads and recreation costs, especially.”
The city approved a study by Sunrise Engineering to evaluate the city’s impact fees; and the total increase recommended by Sunrise came to almost $23,000 to maintain the current level of services.
Ephraim was not willing to go that high, and settled on some middle ground, coming in at the $14,440 figure. Public hearings were advertised, and Wednesday’s meeting was open for public comment before voting.
It was noted that impact fees that were approved to increase would go into effect 90 days after passage.
For over 20 years, Ephraim’s impact fees have remained the same, at $6,269. The only change over the years was the culinary water impact fee, which was raised in 2006, from $2,844 to $3,812. Also, there was a library impact fee of $90, which was cancelled three years ago.
The wastewater (sewer) impact fee was increased from $1,107 to $1,490. That 34 percent increase did not bother anyone at the council meeting last Wednesday. It costs money to put in new sewer lines.
The culinary water impact fee, the largest previous fee at $3,812, was increased 59 percent to $6,067. To maintain current levels of service for culinary water, the city must drill new wells, put in pipes, run lines to homes and find new sources of water. The council passed the increase unanimously.
The road impact fee went from $900 to $2,393, about two-and-a-half as much, with a 266 percent increase. Again, costs for new roads have increased greatly over the years, and the motion passed unanimously.
Parks and Recreation
The parks and recreation fee, currently set at $450, was set to increase exactly 10 times, to $4,500. The city has been planning a new recreation center for years, and with a multi-million-dollar expense on the table, the city will be bonding if citizens approve, but in either case, the council did not want the burden to fall mostly on current residents.
Sunrise Engineering said that their recommendation was based on formulas that represent acres of “green space” per 1,000 people and made the increase amount to reflect what the city’s growth was projected to be.
“Our city’s parks and recreation represent an important ‘quality of life’ in our city,” said the mayor. One person commented that you can have more parks, or later have more crime and drug problems.
The parks impact fee motion was made and seconded, but before the vote was called, citizens and council members began wondering about the final motion.
Several Ephraim citizens questioned this increase, probably because it was clear the impact fees would be going from $6,269 to $14,440 if the last increase were passed. It was not the recreation impact fee increase that caused the greatest debate per se, but one objection was made by Kade Parry, who appeared to represent other citizens present. Parry is an Ephraim resident and wants to build a new home.
“It just seems unfair,” Parry said. “Shouldn’t there be some kind of credit for Ephraim residents who have paid their taxes and utilities over the years, yet will now have to pay over $8,000 more to build a new home if they don’t get their building permit before July 29 of this year?”
Although Parry applauded efforts to keep taxes low by raising impact fees in a fair and measured way, he said, “It is frustrating for a life-long Ephraim resident, like myself, to hear Mayor Scott open the meeting by saying that this increase is meant to protect Ephraim citizens, and hear city manager Kjar say that the increases avoid penalizing Ephraim residents ‘who have paid taxes for years’—when in reality, the abrupt and massive increase puts any Ephraim resident who plans to build a new home in Ephraim at a huge disadvantage.”
He asked if the council would consider some kind of phasing in of the impact fees. The council said that amending the motions were not possible for the three motions that had already passed, but the fourth motion on the parks and recreation increase could still be modified.
Mike Ballard, of the Camino Verde group, which is building new subdivisions in southwest Ephraim, was also concerned of the impact of his development with such large impact fee increases. He too wondered if a phasing in of impact fees was an option.
Asked if impact fee increases will affect his ability to sell houses at Ephraim Crossing, Ballard said, “It will have to be passed on to the buyer, just like recent spikes in lumber and other materials pricing. It will slow sales of new homes and increase values and sales volume of existing homes.”
Ballard said that overall, it hurts the affordability of homes in a community. “We recognize that cities need to change how it funds expanding services,” he said. “We support that. We were hoping that they would phase it in, rather than more than double the impact fees all at once.”
Michael Patton, the city’s recreation director, wondered why the parks impact fee was being argued, when all the others had passed so easily.
Councilmember Lloyd Stevens voted yes on the motion. Councilmember Alma Lund abstained, because he came to the meeting late, and had not been there for the balance of the discussion. Councilmember Richard Wheeler voted yes.
Councilmember Tyler Alder said, “I supervise the Parks and Recreation Board and know how badly we want our current quality of life to continue in our city, but we’re talking about a lot of money here.”
Councilmember Margie Anderson wrestled with her vote. “I feel the plight of people who want to build homes and move here,” she said. “I do not want them to leave and go elsewhere because it is too expensive, but I also know we need to be forward looking and plan for our city’s future. We can’t go on with our current level of impact fees.”
Councilmember Anderson eventually voted yes. Councilmember Alder eventually voted no on the motion. The final impact fee was approved, 3-1 with Councilmember Lund abstaining.
The council also told citizens they intended to continue discussion of options for citizens who live in Ephraim, but did say the city could not really justify having another costly study done so soon.