Atlanta’s impact fees: Not much money for upgrades to police, parks, fire/EMS

By David Pendered

The prospect of Atlanta spending some $2 billion on transit and transportation improvements, pending voter approval of two sales tax referendums on the Nov. 8 ballot, raises the issue of how these projects might overlap with those funded by impact fees paid when property is developed.

Lenox Road park

Atlanta purchased this site on Lenox Road with impact fees generated in the Northside Parks account. One day, this site may connect to a tunnel under Ga. 400 to provide easy access to PATH400. File/Credit: Dexter Andrews

In a nutshell, two entities provide a system of checks and balances on the spending of revenues from impact fees, according to city planning officials.

The Atlanta City Council is the major overseer because it approves infrastructure projects. The other is the set of regulations that determine how and, in some cases where, the proceeds of impact fees may be disbursed.

That said, the task of making certain that transparency exists in these all projects is likely to become very dynamic. For context, consider that the city could be about to embark on a construction project valued at almost half the price tag of the original $4 billion plan for upgrading the city’s stormwater system.

Atlanta planning Commissioner Tim Keane observed that the pot of money generated by impact fees is fairly modest.

The city’s fee schedule is on par with Cherokee County, he said. Most other governments in the region charge higher fees.

The fund has almost $28 million, according to Marshall Willis, a senior analyst who works with the account. The fees were generated for the following purposes:

  1. Transportation, citywide: $14.4 million, of which $7.2 million is encumbered;
  2. Police, citywide: $1.57 million, of which $433,000 is encumbered;
  3. Fire/EMS, citywide: $3.1 million, of which $287,000 is encumbered;
  4. Parks/Recreation has three districts:

    Atlanta was able to use $52,000 in transportation impact fees to help fund construction of the $2.6 million improvement project along Greenbriar Parkway. Credit: Atlanta

    Atlanta was able to use $52,000 in transportation impact fees to help fund construction of the $2.6 million improvement project along Greenbriar Parkway. Credit: Atlanta

  • Northside: $5.87 million, of which $1.39 million is encumbered;
  • Southside: $1.06 million, of which $131,000 is encumbered;
  • Westside: $1.7 million, of which $61,000 is encumbered.

This sum has accrued over a period of years. It can’t begin to address the sorts of projects that Atlanta residents might expect when they see construction underway and figure that impact fees are rolling in.

“I know people are interested in it,” said Keane said. “It’s a relatively modest amount of money, given the scale of a city like Atlanta.

“People’s expectations are for big infrastructure changes to happen with the impact fee program,” Keane said. “But it’s a relatively modest amount being charged. We are comparable only to Cherokee County. You’re generating $14 million for transportation. That’s a relatively small number. And that $14 million has been built up over time. Annually, you’re generating $1 million to $1.5 million to transportation.”

Atlanta charges four separate impact fees. Three of the four – transporation, police and fire/EMS – can be spent anywhere in Atlanta, regardless of where they were generated. The fourth impact fee, for parks and recreation, must be spent in the district where it was collected. Three parks districts exist: Northside, Southside, and Westside.

The rate sheet says these sums were effective on March 26, 1993.

For a single family house built anywhere in Atlanta, the rates are $987 for transportation and $114 for fire/EMS. The impact fee for parks/recreation is $410 in the Northside and $246 in the Southside and Westside districts.

Buckhead parks

Atlanta used impact fees from the Parks Northside account to purchase two sites in Buckhead for future parks. Both are to enhance PATH400. File/Credit: Google Earth, David Pendered

These rates produce impact fees that total:

  • Northside: $1,511;
  • Southside: $1,347;
  • Westside: $1,347.

Willis said the rate is higher in the Northside because of the higher cost of land in the Buckhead area.

Part of the challenge of making perception meet reality in terms of impact fees is the cost of projects. Consider one example that’s been built.

According to Atlanta’s 2016-2020 Capitol Improvement Program, transportation improvements along Greenbriar Parkway were started in 2005 and completed in 2013. The work was recommended in a study funding by the ARC’s Livable Communities Initiative. He’s the price breakdown:

  • Total estimated cost: $2.6 million;
  • Portion chargeable to impact fees: $52,000;
  • LCI funding: $1.7 million;
  • Remaining funds came from other Atlanta proceeds, according to a project fact sheet by Atlanta’s Department of Public Works.

Willis said Atlanta has become diligent in recent years to seek to use its locally generated funds as a match to draw down federal funding.

Keane indicated that the issue of comingling funds from impact fees with those from the potential sales taxes revenues is a bit of a red herring. The point of both funds is to improve the quality of Atlanta’s infrastructure to meet the needs and expectations of residents.

“The question is, what’s the issue there?,” Keane said. “If you have a project in an impact fee area, or on an impact fee list, I could see where you would use impact fee monies to support a bigger infrastructure project. We’re talking about relatively small amounts on the impact fee side.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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