State House Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mt. Airy is an attorney, operates a real estate leasing and rental company and has just become the best friend of North Carolina real estate developers. But don’t expect any cheers from local governments, or from local taxpayers, who are likely to see property tax hikes thanks to Stevens.
Stevens is moving a bill to take from local governments the right to levy impact fees, which can be put on developers to cover the costs — water and sewer, roads and other public services — that new development brings. The fees are vital to towns and cities such as Raleigh and others in the Triangle where development is welcomed but comes with a sizable cost, one that should be shared by the developers who profit most from their projects.
Stevens, who has gotten campaign donations from developers and others in the building industry, is their faithful friend, but she’s not too positive for communities.
This proposal represents yet another move from the General Assembly to take authority from local governments. Weren’t these supposed to be the “small government” people who’d return power to the citizens. Instead, the Republicans have limited local zoning authority, changed how local boards are elected and taken control of water systems. Their most infamous move was HB2, the now-defunct bill that steamrolled local efforts to pass anti-discrimination ordinances.
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So what happens if — probably when — Stevens’ bill becomes law? Well, developers will be throwing a big party with all the extra dollars they’ll be putting in their pockets. And local governments will have to find a way to make up lost revenue. In Raleigh’s case, that’s roughly $20 million a year. So that means the city will have to raise property taxes.
This measure represents the opposite of serving the people and instead serving a monied group that wields heavy influence in the legislature.
Ironically, Republicans complained for decades about powerful Democrats using their majority clout to serve their own interest groups. They were right. But now the shoe’s on the other foot and rather than set an example of cleaning up a flawed system, Republicans are trying to do what they accused the Democrats of doing, only times two.
The cities and towns ought to raise the roof about this bill, and even if they can’t beat it, they can make it clear to developers that without impact fees, some of their more grandiose projects are likely to meet resistance at city halls across the state. Because though developers may succeed in eliminating impact fees, they still have to get projects approved by local governments. And those governments have to make decisions in part on how expensive new developments are going to be. The buck in one important sense stops with them.