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Impact fee collection at all-time low
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With the housing market in a slump, impact fee collections have fallen to an all-time low for the county.

As a result, the timely completion of special projects, which are paid for through the fees, is in jeopardy.

Since the beginning of impact fee collections in March 2005, the average monthly collection has been $172,000. In the last year, average monthly impact fees have fallen to $60,000.

In the last six months, collections have fallen even further to only $30,000, according to a recent memo from Merchant Capital, an investment banking services firm hired by the county.

Through May, impact fees have raised a total of $6.7 million for the construction of parks, libraries and road improvements. While that is $6.7 million the county wouldn't have had otherwise for public projects, some members of the housing industry feel the Newton County Board of Commissioners should reassess the collection of fees and the projects to which the funds are allocated.

"I would think that the citizens would want them to look at the [Capital Improvement Element] again. They had some pretty lofty projects," said Andrea Hammond, executive officer of the Newton County Home Builders Association. "Those projects were based on them bringing in $5 million a year, and they're not even going to come close."

In April, the BOC approved an annual update to the county's CIE. The CIE contains $78.8 million in projects, which will either be wholly or partially funded by impact fees.

The most expensive projects on the list were ones for road improvements, including $21.2 million for the widening of U.S. Highway 278 and $13.8 million for the widening of Brown Bridge Road.

All of the projects currently on the CIE are scheduled to be completed by 2012. The impact fee program is set to expire in 2015.

If impact fee collections do not pick up, a number of the projects currently placed lower on the list, whose sole source of funding is impact fees, will either have to be scrapped, postponed or have funding found elsewhere.

Among those projects is a $4.1 million project to build a multi-use sports complex, a $1.4 million project to build a park in District 1, a $500,000 project to build a park in District 3 and a $410,000 project to add to the library system's book collection.

"There is still a long period of collection there," said County Administrative Officer John Middleton. "As the market comes back up, the revenues there will correspondingly go up as development goes up."

As of May, $844,000 has been collected for library department use and $1.5 million for the recreation department. The remaining impact fees have been allocated for road improvements.

Currently two projects, funded by impact fees, are underway: Denny Dobbs Park and the Oak Hill Library.

Though the housing market is expected to pick up, it likely will not be at the break-neck speed experienced by the county at the beginning of the decade. There are several factors contributing to this - an over-saturation of new houses on the market and $4 a gallon gasoline, which makes commuting to Atlanta from the county less attractive for prospective newcomers than when gasoline was $2.50 a gallon two years ago.

"I think it's just one of those things we're gong to watch as we've done in the past with other capital funds," Middleton said.

If impact fee collections do not pick up significantly over the next year or so, Middleton said he expects the BOC would decide to re-prioritize its list of impact fee projects.