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Impact fee debate continues in city

State law changes may force New Richmond to change its park fee policy for new development.

In the past, the city has charged about $950 for each new home to help cover the cost of new parks and park development. (Some developments are able to dedicate land for parks instead of a cash payment if such a park fits into the city plan.)

But new state laws now require a city to collect such payments as an impact fee, according to city engineering firm Short Elliot Hendrickson.

SEH's Dave Carlson said the New Richmond Park Board asked him to complete a draft needs assessment to determine what impact fee should be charged.

Using the city's informal park goals of two acres of neighborhood parks, eight acres of community parkland, one mile of trails and six acres of natural areas for every 1,000 population, Carlson said new home builders would need to pay about $1,693 to allow the city to keep pace.

New commercial development would need to be charged 68 cents per foot in park impact fees to fairly distribute the costs, he added.

Park board member Jim Zajkowski said he'd like to see the fee maintained near its present $950 level.

"We want to get that on the books as soon as possible," he said, "so we're not losing out on any (developments)."

If an impact fee is not established, Zajkowski said, the cost of new parks and development will have to be picked up by current landowners in the city.

Carlson warned that many communities under charge when it comes to parks, noting that costs for parks generally are higher than what most people expect.

"The $1,600 is certainly in the ballpark," he said.

The council voted to conduct a public hearing on the park impact fee matter at its regular September meeting.

Later in the meeting, council member Ron Volkert asked his fellow aldermen to further debate the entire impact fee issue.

The city recently hiked its overall impact fee to about $10,000, causing some area developers and residents to worry that housing starts will be slowed as costs rise.

"I sometimes wonder if they're just a little bit too high," Volkert said. "We should maybe reconsider and revisit the issue."

Bob Barbian, director of planning and economic development, said the newly implemented fees are based on actual costs for new development in the city. If a person who is building in New Richmond doesn't pay the cost, current taxpayers will be forced to make up the difference.

"You're going to end up short at the end of the day," he said.

For many years, alderman Jim Johnston said, the city has "been throwing darts at a board" to determine fees charged to developers.

Now that the city is working with SEH, the fees are based on "real numbers" and shouldn't be ignored, he said.

"If the true numbers scare us, then they scare us," he said. "We have to do what's right for the taxpayers in the city of New Richmond, not the Builders' Association. The money has to come from somewhere."

Despite the controversy over the impact fees, Zajkowski said he didn't feel the higher fees would stop the community's growth. He said what attracts people to New Richmond are lower land values.