Commission to decide road fee
Next Tuesday, Leavenworth County commissioners will hear arguments about significantly increasing the county's road improvement fee.
What this could mean for the builder of a home in the county is that the current fee -- $2,500 that now is paid when a building permit is acquired -- could increase to $14,000 when land is platted.
The goal of the proposed plan, said John Zoellner, the county's director of planning and zoning and a member of the transportation committee that devised the plan, is to ensure that new development pays for road improvement.
On Jan. 28, the county's planning committee voted 6-1 to accept the transportation committee's recommendation for the higher fee. If the county commissioners decide Tuesday to adopt the plan, it could be implemented as early as March.
Denise Bensusan, a Kingman, Ariz., Realtor who plans this year to build a house in rural Leavenworth County, was shocked to learn she might have to come up with $10,000 more than she expected.
Less than a month ago, Bensusan was told a building permit, which currently includes the road fee, would cost $4,000.
¢ The Leavenworth County commissioners will decide next week whether to adopt a new Road Improvement Fee policy.
¢ The commissioners will discuss the issue at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the training room in the basement of the Justice Center, 601 South 3rd Street, Leavenworth.
¢ The public is welcome to attend.
But when she called the county last week, she learned that if the commissioners approve the new fee, her building permit and road fee could cost $18,000 later this year.
The proposed plan, written by the county's transportation committee and approved Jan. 28 by the county's planning committee, allows for exceptions.
For instance, developers who build on highways would pay no fee. And developers who build on paved roads would pay 75 percent of the fee. This plan takes into account that these developers will have the expense of building internal roads. And, when a large development is built on a gravel road, it's possible the developer could opt to pave the gravel road in lieu of paying the fee. In some cases, this would cost less than paying the fee.
The purpose of the proposal is twofold, say county officials -- to encourage development along paved roads, and to ensure that new development pays for the road needs it creates.
But Bensusan chaffs at that, saying it's unfair to expect new development to finance improvements to old roads.
"I'm coming in and I'm getting hit with an additional $10,000 for roads that I've never used," Bensusan said. "It's almost like saying don't come and develop here -- don't live here."
Bensusan said she's surprised that Leavenworth County residents aren't protesting.
"I cannot believe this," Bensusan said. "Don't the people in Leavenworth County get up in arms to stop this kind of thing -- if that would have happened out here, we would be on it."
Bensusan, who is now a widowed single parent, plans to pay cash for her new home, a house which she said would be modest.
For mid-level income families, the new fee will be a deterrent to building in rural areas, she said.
"The ones with the big bucks are the ones that are going to be able to build in the country, and the ones with the modest incomes aren't," Bensusan said.
County commissioners are still examining the pros and cons of a fee increase.
"I don't know at this point which way I'm going to go," said Don Navinsky, who chairs the county commission. "I'm still weighing the issues and looking at things."
The issue is complicated, he said.
"This is not cut and dried for me," Navinsky said. "It might be for some people, but it's not for me."
Part of Navinsky's indecision is because he knows his home turf won't benefit much from it.
"In the northwest part of the county where I live, some of those roads, I know, will never be paved," he said. "It's somewhat unfair for those people to have to put up that kind of money and they will never receive the benefit of a paved road."
Commissioner Joe Daniels, who lives between Tonganoxie and Basehor, sees more rooftops going up every day. As of Monday, Daniels seemed to be leaning toward increasing the fee.
"I still support the idea of growth paying for the roads that really they cause to be made because of the increase in traffic," Daniels said.
While some developers have asked county officials to grandfather land already platted so that it would not be charged the higher fee, Daniels said that's not plausible because of the large number of lots that could be included.
"When you start looking around, there are more than you think," Daniels said.
Attempts to reach Commissioner Bob Adams were unsuccessful.
No road fairy
John Zoellner, director of planning and zoning, said his work would be simplified if the fee did not exist.
"It would be easier just to get rid of that -- don't charge a RIF to anybody and we'll just wait and see what happens -- maybe a road fairy will come down and take care of all the roads for us," Zoellner said. "But I don't think that will happen."
The county has looked at the possibility of raising taxes to pay for road improvements. But, he estimated it would take at least nine mills to do the work. A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed property valuation.
"It takes money," Zoellner said. "Roads are expensive, that's the problem."
One way to lock in the lower RIF would be to obtain a building permit right away if the commissioners approve the increase.
But this won't help future homebuilders.
Zoellner said if it's approved, the plan would be enacted during a six-month period, with no increase in the fee the first month, and incremental increases during the next five months until the fee reaches $14,000.
"Yeah, you can get your building permit now," Zoellner said of people who get their building permits during that six-month time frame. Then he added: "But what about the person who comes in the next week?"
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