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The Daily Tar Heel

Officials Discuss Fee on Homes

Staff Writer

HILLSBOROUGH -- Orange County officials and residents weighed in with questions and opinions Monday about a report that could impact county fees charged to home builders in the local school districts.

The report, prepared by Tischler and Associates Inc., a Bethesda, Md., consulting agency, recommends that the county charge higher public school impact fees for construction of single-family homes than for construction of other residential dwellings.

The report also details maximum legally permissible impact fees.

The one-time fees, which are paid by anyone building housing in Orange County, are calculated by comparing new school capital infrastructure needs in the county's two school districts to the number of students generated per household. Capital needs include new land, buildings, vehicles and classroom costs.

The report indicates that single-family homes generate higher numbers of students than other types of housing.

"The maximum supportable fees are not the recommended fees," said Craig Benedict, director of the Orange County Planning Department. "There is no recommendation at this time."

If the maximum public school impact fees are adopted, fees for construction of single-family homes will jump from $750 to $5,375 for Orange County Schools and from $3,000 to $7,374 for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

The Board of Commissioners likely will adopt new impact fees after a courtesy review by the planning board and according to the requests of the school districts, Benedict said.

The commissioners will consider the fees as part of their annual budget deliberations, which begin in April.

Susan Halkiotis, a member of the Orange County Board of Education, said the board already requested that the county implement a $3,000 impact fee for Orange County Schools rather than the maximum allowable fee.

"It's a help, obviously," she said. "It still leaves a significant amount that will have to be funded by property taxes or a bond."

Marinda Martin, who lives in Efland, said she thinks the schools need the maximum fee. During Chapel Hill's years of heavy growth, the town had a maximum fee in place, and Chapel Hill now has a world-class education system, she said. "I'm suggesting we take a leaf from Chapel Hill's book and not let our schools fall into a more dire state," Martin said.

But Hillsborough Mayor Horace Johnson expressed qualified support, even for partially increased fees.

"My concern is that they say it's not a tax, but it is a tax. It's a burdensome tax on the majority of people in northern Orange County," Johnson said.

"The average people working, husband and wife, they barely make over $35,000 a year," he said. "They can ill afford to pay $3,000."

In addition to concerns about affordable housing, residents also discussed the fairness of impact fees paid by long-term residents who decide to relocate within the county and by those who home-school their children.

David Hunt, who lives in the Wildwood subdivision north of Interstate 85, said he is sympathetic to the diverse interests of people in the county but feels it would be extremely difficult for the county to respond to each interest.

"Where does it stop?" he asked. "With the exception of low-income housing, when you start providing exemptions, it's going to be really difficult to determine who would or would not pay the fees."

Paul Tischler, of Tischler and Associates, said the diverse concerns of Orange County are not unique.

"Around the country, the big issue is fewer kids per class. Everybody's for that, but it's a very costly issue."

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