SALISBURY – Members of the Wicomico County Council voted 6-1 to repeal impact fees in a meeting Tuesday evening.
This vote came after months of discussion among the county’s elected officials, who debated the effects of impact fees on the county’s residents and businesses, and its annual revenue budget.
Currently, those building new homes in Wicomico County pay more than $5,000 in fees, approximately three percent of the medium home price in the area. The amount then goes to fund the county’s public schools.
Yet, stagnant growth across the county has made officials consider a repeal proposed by County Executive Bob Culver.
“I have tried to do it for four years,” he said. “We really got support from petitions, builders and realtors.”
The Coastal Association of Realtors released a letter earlier this year 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 eliminated regulations in August that required Best Available Technology (BAT) on all replaced or new septic systems, saving the owners potentially more than $11,000.
Councilmembers brought the issue up for discussions two months ago and voted unanimously to bring the bill to a public hearing and final vote in a Sept. 20 meeting.
But back-and-forth debates between officials have stalled decisions until this week.
Proponents of the bill to repeal the fee argued removing the legislation would stimulate economic growth and reduce the county’s revenue in what is said to be small amounts, one-third of a percent.
“I am glad to see the council approved to repeal the fees,” Council President John Cannon said. “I always thought they were a burden to the building industry. Repealing it will initiate new home construction.”
Those who opposed the repeal argued that the fee’s amount equals the potential buyer’s impact on the county’s services based on a 2002 survey.
In their last meeting, Councilman Earnest Davis proposed altering only a portion of the code that would eliminate the fee, but not the legislation.
The discussion was then tabled pending further review. However, Cannon said the idea was not mentioned further in Tuesday’s meeting.
“The council realized that having a bill on books with no purpose wasn’t necessary,” Cannon said. “It would either be a piece of legislation with purpose, or it won’t be legislation at all.”
Davis was the only councilmember to oppose the repeal in Tuesday’s vote.
In earlier meetings, Councilman John Hall backed Davis with questions concerning the repeal, but has since joined the other councilmembers in approving the bill.
“My number one reason for voting in favor was because of the calls I received from constituents wanting the repeal,” Hall said. “Nobody who called opposed the repeal. It’s a good idea at this time. We want to make sure Wicomico County is business-friendly.”
The bill will not take effect until the first of the year, according to Culver, after a moratorium set for Dec. 31 will expire.
“I am very happy with it,” Culver said. “It isn’t an immediate life saver, but it’s encouraging those to build. We are excited about it.”
Davis did not respond to inquiries for comment.