Archive for Wednesday, February 11, 1998


February 11, 1998


So-called ``impact fees'' assessed on new homes and businesses hooking into the city's water and sewer systems actually are having little or no financial impact on the city's bottom line, Lawrence city commissioners learned Tuesday night.

The fees, assessed for new connections to the systems, poured only $175,000 into city coffers in 1997, or about 12.5 percent less than expected. The money was used to defray costs on $10.6 million in major construction projects.

This year, the fees -- known by city officials as ``system development charges'' -- will add $479 to the cost of building a new home, compared with the $239 assessed last year. Businesses pay more, depending on the size of pipes needed.

Commissioners discussed the fees while reviewing an annual report compiled by the city's Utilities Department. Even staffers conceded that the money had little effect.

``Every little bit helps,'' said Roger Coffey, the city's utilities director.

Mayor Bonnie Augustine isn't convinced. She never supported the fees in the first place, saying that they unfairly charge new development for services that should be shared equally by all members of the community.

Augustine also feared that the fees would drive up the price of homes and even scare away companies looking to locate or expand in Lawrence.

After a year on the books, the fees still haven't offered a clear picture. But Augustine noted that Lawrence residents and businesses certainly aren't seeing any savings on their monthly water and sewer bills as expected.

``It's not generating the money that it was supposed to,'' Augustine said after Tuesday's meeting. ``It just generates a lot of excitement among the developers and among the builders, and it's just one more hurdle that the economic-development recruiters have to overcome.

``I'm wondering about the rationale of even having them.''

Commissioner John Nalbandian, the only remaining commissioner who voted to start the charges, said the fees served the public interest by recognizing the ``equity'' in the water and sewer systems already held by current Lawrence residents and businesses.

New users, he said, simply are paying a fee to use what other residents already have paid for. Whether the fees are adequate depends on how much the community is willing to pay.

``It needs to continue to play itself out,'' Nalbandian said.

Four commissioners -- all but Nalbandian -- clearly oppose the fees, but none were willing to advocate their revocation Tuesday night. Augustine noted that the city's own Economic Development Advisory Council, as well as the Lawrence Home Builders Assn., want the fees repealed, although neither group sent representatives to Tuesday's meeting.

Commissioner Bob Moody, who voted against the fees in 1996, also isn't ready to get rid of the fees.

``They're here and it's a done deal, period,'' Moody said. ``I disagreed with them at the time, and I still disagree with them, but revisiting this issue may do more harm than good.''

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is

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