Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TOP STORY > >City still has no answers about fee

Leader staff writer

A committee that will advise the Cabot City Council either to keep the impact fee on new construction and try to collect enough money for some of the city’s needs, or do away with the fee and perhaps reverse the building slump that could threaten the city’s growth, met for the second time Monday evening and decided on questions that must be answered before it makes its recommendation.

“How much do we think we need and where are we going to get it from? We’ve got to get our arms around that or otherwise we’re spitting in the wind,” banker Larry Biernacki told the other members of the committee.

How much the city needs to provide a quality of living that will make the city thrive is a question that Mayor Eddie Joe Williams is supposed to answer, or at least provide the committee with a ballpark figure.

The impact fee could be used to help pay for construction of a fire station somewhere in the vicinity of Greystone and Magness Creek, where the lack of a nearby station threatens to more than double some homeowners’ insurance premiums.

Traffic congestion is a problem and the impact fee can be used to add capacity to the streets. Within the next few years, the city could need at least $2 million for its share of the cost of building a north interchange, the mayor said. The impact fee could also be used to expand the library.

Realtor and developer Bill O’Brien told fellow committee members that since the city has grown to more than 22,000, the tax revenue from the businesses that are moving to Cabot will take the place of the impact fee.

“Chili’s wouldn’t be looking at Cabot if the city couldn’t support it,” O’Brien said.

To date, Chili’s has not applied for a building permit, so as far as the staff at public works is concerned, it is only a rumor.

However, Goody’s in the old Wal-Mart building will open soon, and Tuesday Morning, which will be located beside Goody’s, has applied for a building permit.

Such businesses could potentially keep Cabot diners and shoppers at home.

In November, the city council declared a six-month moratorium on the impact fee to see if not paying the fee would slow construction of houses in Ward and Austin. So far this year, only eight building permits have been sold in Cabot. But construction also is down in Ward and Austin. Builders say the weather is a contributing factor.

A portion of the impact fee goes to Cabot WaterWorks for sewer. But since the commission that runs that utility has said it can do without the money, the committee could recommend keeping the impact fee but dropping sewer.

O’Brien asked if the city council could change the ordinance that created the fee by itself, or would the experts who were paid about $150,000 to prepare the ordinance have to be called in again.

The mayor said he would ask City Attorney Jim Taylor to find the answer to that question for the committee, which will meet again at 6:30 p.m. March 24.