In light of the recent Georgia Supreme Court decision not to hear an injunction order appeal by the home builders associations, Newton County is preparing to spend the $6.5 million in collected impact fees.
"We're very pleased with the ruling, and hopefully we can move forward on the rest of the lawsuit and get that behind us," said Newton County Chairman Aaron Varner.
The Newton County Home Builders Association and the Home Builders Association of Georgia filed a lawsuit against the Newton County Board of Commissioners in December, 2005 over the county's new impact fee ordinance. At the same time the home builders associations sought an injunction order to keep the county from spending collected impact fees until the resolution of the case.
While the injunction order has been denied, the lawsuit is still in litigation. According to Deron Hicks, attorney for the home builders associations, a bench trial has been scheduled for December in Newton County Superior Court.
A bench trial is a trial before a judge. There is no jury. Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson Jr. will hear the case said Hicks.
Hicks said the home builders associations still think they have a strong case against the county despite the Georgia Supreme Court's decision not to hear their appeal.
"The Supreme Court's decision did not address at all the legality of the fee," Hicks said. "The issue of whether these fees are even legal is still pending and is going to be resolved. We would have liked for everyone who has paid a fee to get a chance to get these fees back. The bigger principle all along is whether these fees are legal."
Varner said in the coming weeks the Board of Commissioners will sit down together to pick out several projects to begin dispensing funds to.
"We have far more projects out there than we have money so we'll have to prioritize," Varner said. "It'll take us awhile to get all our plans back in motion."
According to an Aug. 31 impact fee financial report, the county has collected $6,278,309 in impact fees. The vast majority of collections come from new home permits (3,361 permits have been issued since the impact fee ordinance went into effect on Mar. 15, 2005). To date there has been $371,004 collected in commercial impact fees.
With accrued interest the total amount in impact fee collections comes to $6,530,576 as of Aug. 31.
According to state law, impact fees must be used for structures and infrastructure within the areas they are collected. The county has designated impact fee funds to the library improvements, parks and recreation, road improvements, administration and Capitol Improvements Element Prep.
As of Aug. 31, $845,831 in impact fees has been collected for library use, $1,521,432 collected for parks and recreation use, $4,104,654 set aside for road improvements, $53,849 set aside for administrative uses and $4,809 set aside for CIE Prep.
Varner said the BOC will be meeting with the Library Board and the Newton County Recreation Department shortly to discuss releasing collected impact fees to their departments.
"We just got this stuff released and the planning will take a few weeks for us," Varner said.
Varner said the county will also be meeting with the Georgia Department of Transportation to discuss matching funds from the state for road improvement projects which will partially be paid for from impact fees.