Road Impact Fees & Accountability

This is the second of two guest blog articles this week by Mac McIntyre. The most involved of the Smart Growth-DeKalb participants–affectionately tagged (by me) as the Internet Research Commandos–discovered McIntyre’s work last fall when we began attending city meetings and researching logistics issues. We’ve been reading his “Rants & Raves” column at DeKalb County Online ever since.

My question: Will you elaborate on your objections to the road impact fee, & tell me what you believe should happen instead?

My main objection to all impact fees is the devastating effect they have had on affordable workforce housing. The Chicago Metropolis 2020 report, coordinated by the Suburban Mayors Caucus, reports that impact fees are the single largest obstacle in the way of affordable housing.

One of the warnings issued when impact fees were being considered in northern Illinois was that they could create irresponsible spending by local governmental units. When the PHH Farnus study was done, it was determined that governmental units would “break-even” on new homes priced in the $80,000-$120,000 range. Now they claim that can’t break even on the $350,000-and-up homes that are being built at RiverMist and Heron Creek. That sounds irresponsible to me.

In relation to the road impact fee. 605 ILCS 5 of the Illinois Compiled State Statutes regulates Road Improvement Impact Fees. The DCBDA recommended that the City of DeKalb apply this law to all impact fees. This law requires a citizen oversight committee to make sure the laws have been adhered to and to make sure the impact fees are properly spent. It also requires that the unit of government requesting the impact fee provide the public with a comprehensive plan for the services the impact fees would be used for. This would give the public the opportunity to have input on the road construction plans in the community. It would allow property owners the opportunity to know and address concerns they might have if they knew the street in front of their homes might become an arterial road or a truck by-pass route, for example. If 605 ILCS 5 was applied to the school impact fee, the citizens would be provided with a comprehensive plan for how the school district was planning to address its construction needs. (Doing so might help them get a referendum passed.) These laws also spell out, in detail, how a homeowner could apply for and receive a refund of the impact fees they paid, should the governmental units misuse such funds.

According to 605 ILCS 5, no Illinois community or governmental unit, including Home Rule communities, can impose a Road Improvement Impact Fee unless they comply with this statute. DeKalb, in an effort to circumvent this law, is attempting to impose a Road Improvement Impact Fee through the form of a “voluntary” annexation agreement. If a developer wants his project approved they must voluntarily agree to waive their customers’ rights to an appeal in the event of misuse.

Here is but one example of misuse. The school district’s first attempt at a referendum failed by a 70-30 percent vote margin. That referendum called for a $70 million construction bond that would have built a new high school next to the current high school which would have been converted to a junior high school. So, the school district bought the property that AYSO soccer is played on from the City of DeKalb, who had purchased it from the cemetery. The school district used their impact fees to purchase the property without voter consent. The voters rejected their referendum so the school district RENTED the land to the Park District who is using their impact fees to pay the rent. City tax dollars were used to purchase the land from the cemetery. School impact fees were used to purchase the land from the City. Park District impact fees are being used to rent the land from the school district.

And now buyers of a new four bedroom home in DeKalb will have to pay more than $21,000 in impact fees and the City wants developers to voluntarily agree to waive their customers’ rights to make sure their money was well spent?

No solution is workable unless the government is held accountable for its spending. Impact fees or annexation agreements should be legally imposed with full disclosure provided to the public.