We hear it from the Arizona Legislature every time Congress passes a law: Give power to the level of government closest to the people — not a far-away bureaucracy. Makes a heck of a bumper sticker: Don’t tread on me.
So it does seem odd that same Legislature continues to abuse and disregard local government — so much closer to the grassroots than the Phoenix brain trust.
Witness the underhanded way the Legislature has attacked impact fees, which many towns like Payson use to pay for vital infrastructure — like the Blue Ridge pipeline.
The state set up a convoluted accounting system for impact fees that would have done the drafters of Obamacare proud. The system requires towns to say what they’ll spend every dime of the impact fee on — then keep track of every nickel indefinitely. That’s so 30 years after the developer pays a $1,000 public safety impact fee on a home, the homeowner of the moment can go down to city hall, demand an accounting — and maybe get a refund.
Now, we’re not saying we love impact fees. Actually, we hate them — mostly. The fees increase the cost of a new home significantly. Between Payson and the Northern Gila County Sanitary District, the fees on an $85,000 home could easily top $15,000. That drives off needed growth — and drives away bill-paying, tax-paying customers.
Now, that might not apply to big projects like the Blue Ridge pipeline. We need the pipeline to make future growth possible — so it’s reasonable for developers to chip in. But that doesn’t mean charging a $4,500 sewer hookup fee makes sense when the sanitary district already has enough money in the bank to double the size of the system.
Of course: Here’s the punchline. The Legislature exempted sanitation districts, who apparently had a better lobbyist than cities and towns.
So we’re no fan of impact fees — but we do believe in local control. And we hate legislative bullies — whether they operate in Washington, D.C. or Phoenix, Arizona.