Mono County’s Development Impact Fees were a short-lived attempt at revenue enhancement, ultimately yielding only miniscule results, but on Tuesday the Mono County Board of Supervisors collectively decided it was finally time to put the underperforming DIF program out of its misery.
Terminating the program was originally brought up this past May as part of Supervisor Larry Johnston’s “County stimulus” plan. Two-thirds of his ideas ended up being adopted in some form or other, but a 3-2 majority wasn’t sure that it wanted to get rid of fees entirely, opting at the time to revisit the issue when the DIF Schedule Report came up for its 5-year review.
County Financial Analyst Mary Booher presented the updated schedule to Board on Tuesday. Her report, based on the initial 2005 version compiled by consultants Stantec and Charles Long Associates, examined the itemized recommended fees for both residential and commercial developers, covering impacts on services ranging from government buildings, drainage, traffic, recreation and even libraries (except in Mammoth Lakes).
The itemized fees, which end up being billed out in composite form, were adopted as part of Chapter 3 of the Mono County Code in November 2005, and established base Equivalent Living Unit (ELU) fees of about $2,700 in Crowley and $5,000 in June Lake for development south of Conway Summit. (Interest was expressed at the time for expanding the fees countywide.) ELUs are a unit of measure that is calculated based on projected future land development and uses, particularly resort uses.
All the fees were to be held to help fund various capital projects, and when the Board adopted them in 2005, development was booming. But it wasn’t long, however, before the economic climate began to sour and the boom went bust. By the time the current Board sat down for Tuesday’s meeting, only about $300,000 of impact fees and interest had been collected for Sheriffs Department, County buildings, and administration and planning applications.
Johnston remained critical of DIF, echoing his primary problem with the program much as he did in May. “Development needs to be shown to have an impact before we can have justify having a fee schedule,” he reiterated. Indeed, using some simple math, Johnston illustrated that, dividing the DIF schedule’s Countywide Land Use Inventory of roughly 27,000 ELUs by the current amount of development that amounts to roughly 40 ELUs annually, it would take about 700 years to collect fees for proposed projects.
Board Chair Hap Hazard essentially agreed with Johnston, commending staff’s thorough work, but calling the report “fatally flawed.” With some 250 homes planned for the Tri-Valley area in his district, Hazard didn’t dispute the need for some type of impact compensation. He did, however, suggest that perhaps fees should be looked at more tailored to a specific project or area, perhaps levied on more case-by-case basis, as opposed to a blanket, countywide approach. “Chalfant needs a community center, but collecting fees to pay for a [proposed] ‘gymnasium’ is borderline criminal,” Hazard said, adding it’s not something that goes to the need of the area. In any case, he wasn’t convinced that now is the time for any sort of countywide DIF, particularly as represented by the present program.
“When Charlie Long swung through the County 7 years ago, he said DIF was needed to ASSIST in paying for things the County needs,” Supervisor Byng Hunt recalled. “At the time lots of things were in the works and development was booming. Times have changed. We can’t project what conditions will be like 10 years from now, and it’s hard to justify a fee schedule that would attempt to cover that period of time.”
During public comment, Rocky Scholl and his wife, one couple who have been working on a home in Sunnyslopes and stood to owe the County about $3,000 in DIF were chomping at the bit to see where the Board was intending to go with its decision. “If you’d said 5-7 years ago the planet’s economy would go off the edge, people would have said you were crazy, but here we are,” Mrs. Scholl observed.
Mammoth resident Leigh Gaasch, however, was supportive of the fees, pointing to needs in parts of town, such as Sierra Valley Sites, needing storm drain improvements, as well as other services.
The elephant in the room, suggested Supervisor Vikki Bauer, has always been the 2005 Stantec study. Bauer reviewed the study and railed at the document. She went on to list numerous flaws in its findings, pointing out sloppy methodology and assumptions based on generic figures either “pulled out of thin air” or derived from out of county and, in some cases, out state sources, such as Nevada.
County Finance Director Brian Muir noted that, if nothing else, the Board should consider keeping fees related to building a new jail, at present estimated at $15 million, which he thinks will before long become a necessity. Look for the Board to explore grants and other CIP options for funding the jail and other projects.
Supervisors voted 5-0 to scrap the existing DIF program, albeit with mild reservations by Bauer, who indicated she preferred the entire DIF account to be refunded. The County will refund much of the $300,000, except for any fees bound for the Sheriffs Department and County buildings. Any fees pending but not already paid will be nullified and rescinded from collection.