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Cunningham: Skeptical about Tucson cutting impact fees

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Cunningham: Skeptical about Tucson cutting impact fees

  • Tucson City Hall
    PhotographyBySakura/Flickr Tucson City Hall

I became very frustrated the other night at the City Council meeting over what might be considered an obscure subject: impact fees.

Impact fees are charged to developers for new construction. Cities and counties impose them because new development means that services in that area, whether it's roads, parks, water or sewers, need to be expanded.

For example, let's say 100 houses are built in an area that was previously vacant. Sure, the developer will pay for the infrastructure in that new neighborhood. They'll have roads, sewer hookups maybe even a nice walking trail. However, those hundred families will be driving on existing roads, using existing parks and will need additional fire and police services.

The city of Tucson established impact fees in 2004 to make sure that the cost of expanding services to accommodate new residents did not come at the expense of maintaining or improving services for existing residents. For a long time, leaders in our community believed that growth would pay for itself. It took a long time for us to acknowledge that; Tucson adopted impact fees after other communities like Marana and Oro Valley.

Understand that impact fees cannot just be spent wherever my colleagues and I would like. Road impact fees must be spent in the area near the development. Parks impact fees must be spent in the same "service area" as the development. Basically, when you hear about a new development on the East Side, those impact fees are being spent on parks on the East Side.

These restrictions, among others, are set by state law. Also, there are limits in what we can spend the money on. For example, impact fees from parks can't be spent on maintenance, only on expanding capacity. We can put a shade over a basketball court to allow it to be used in the summer months (more capacity), but we can't fix any damage it's got from decades of wear and tear (maintenance).

What was being discussed the other day was a change in impact fees. I am particularly interested in this because much of that my office has been able to do to expand our park capacity in Ward 2 has been through the use of impact fees. It's hard to imagine how we could have funded something like the revitalization of Jesse Owens Park without impact fees.

I was skeptical, at best, of what was being brought to my colleagues and I, given that the plan involved reductions of most impact fees. In certain cases, impact fees will be reduced by 25 percent. My fear is that we will never have the capacity to build another park in the city limits, no matter how much our needs continue to grow.

We will be taking this matter up again at the next meeting. I want to know a few things. For example, how do our impact fees compare to other jurisdictions in Arizona? Also, we heard an awful lot from the development community, but what about neighborhoods and park users?

By the way, a word of thanks needs to go out to one of my colleagues, Lane Santa Cruz, who had some of the same concerns and frustrations I did.

I don't mean to pick on Development Services staff here, but the fact is that they hear from developers all the time. They aren't in constant touch with neighborhoods, sports leagues and other people who want the parks expanded. This was my biggest frustration: we heard a largely one-sided discussion on the issue with little input from people that use our parks and know the needs.

There are a lot of you out there who use our parks and see where we need expansion. I'd like you to come to call to the audience at our next meeting (February 19). Tell your story and tell my colleagues and I why we need to keep our impact fees.

Paul Cunningham represents Ward 2 on the Tucson City Council.

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