Thursday, September 10, 2009
Council OKs Cutting Impact Fees, Barely
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque city councilors ended almost three hours of debate late Wednesday with narrow approval of proposals to reduce or waive impact fees for the next year.
About 80 builders, business owners and other supporters turned out to say the measures would stimulate construction activity and boost the local economy. They wore white stickers that said "Vote Jobs."
Opponents argued that waiving or reducing the fees was just a "giveaway" that would leave City Hall with less money to build roads and other projects needed to serve the new development.
Councilors Ken Sanchez and Trudy Jones sponsored the bills, saying impact fees make a real difference in construction activity.
"People cannot afford to build," Sanchez said, urging others to support the measure.
The impact fee legislation was adopted 5-4, with support from Sanchez, Jones, Sally Mayer, Brad Winter and Don Harris. Opposed were Isaac Benton, Debbie O'Malley, Michael Cadigan and Rey Garduño.
Cadigan said the proposals would lead to litigation and leave the city with millions less to provide infrastructure — money the city will have to make up elsewhere if it can.
"We represent the taxpayers, not the home-building industry," he said.
Impact fees are charged to offset the city's cost of providing streets, parks and other infrastructure.
The bills approved Wednesday would cut impact fees in half for the next year for most projects. Development that meets certain environmental standards would be eligible for a full waiver.
The measures will go to Mayor Martin Chávez, who proposed the original legislation, though councilors made technical changes Wednesday.
Business owners and builders, big and small, offered pointed testimony about having to lay off employees as the economy worsened. They also talked about the difficulty of securing loans to build local projects, especially in the face of impact fees. One man said his wife cried as she left City Hall after learning of the impact fee bill their project would face.
Many supporters voiced displeasure with impact fees in general.
Several neighborhood representatives spoke against the bill. Amy Whitling, president of the District 4 Coalition of Neighborhood Associations in the Northeast Heights, said her group " just didn't see any evidence this would jump-start the economy."