SALISBURY – Wicomico County Council members did not vote to repeal development impact fees in Tuesday’s meeting, but instead have tabled discussions until other proposed options are reviewed.
Councilman Ernest Davis suggested altering portions of the current code that would eliminate the fees, but not the legislation, allowing the county to re-add fees in the future if needed.
Council President John Cannon, however, said keeping the legislation, even without a dollar amount, would do nothing for the county.
“I didn’t vote to table the issue because I thought it was a matter of semantics,” he said. “I don’t really see what you are gaining because whether the bill is still on the books or it is deleted, someone can still bring it back on the table later.”
Cannon said he was surprised by the turn of events at Tuesday’s meeting and was certain the repeal would pass.
“I am not really sure what happened,” he said. “I think more or less members were just thinking out loud.”
In their Sept. 20 meeting, members voted 7-0 to move the repeal forward for a final vote and public hearing.
Although the vote was unanimous, a few members held reservations about the repeal. Davis and Councilman John Hall expressed concerns for eliminating the fees in prior meetings.
Hall said research from a 2002 study suggests the fee’s amount equals the potential buyer’s impact on the county’s services.
These fees currently go toward the county’s school system, but proponents of the bill said a lack of changes in school enrollment numbers may not justify the need for impact fees. However, school enrollment in the county increased for the current school year.
Despite the delay, Cannon said he would put the bill back on the agenda for an upcoming council meeting.
County Executive Bob Culver, who proposed eliminating the fees to council members, said a moratorium will soon expire and decisions will need to be made.
“We cannot do a moratorium anymore,” he said. “Both attorneys agreed that we couldn’t do that. So there should be a decision at the next council meeting.”
Currently, those building new homes in the county will pay more than $5,000 in impact fees, a figure which makes up three percent of the county’s median home price.
In an early September council meeting, members and supporters of the repeal argued that eliminating the fee will remove one-third of a percent from the annual revenue budget.
The decision is expected to stimulate new home construction and economic growth, according to Culver.
The Coastal Association of Realtors released a letter supporting Culver’s proposal, saying impact fees, in addition to costly sprinkler regulations, could incentivize potential buyers and home builders to move away or build elsewhere.
Culver took his lead to propose the repeal from Gov. Larry Hogan, who repealed regulations in August that required Best Available Technology (BAT) on all replaced or new septic systems, saving the owners more than $11,000.
If the bill to repeal the fees does not pass, Culver said developers will be the ones to suffer.
“For a developer, that legislation is always going to hang over their head as to rather the fee would change,” he said. “It’s a win for me, but I would like to get it repealed all the way.”
The repeal will take 60 days to pass if council members vote in favor in an upcoming meeting.
“Several members discussed keeping the legislation in play, but with no fee,” Culver said. “I think they all will want to repeal.”
Davis did not respond to inquiries for comment.