Cutting fee for builders is backed by council

Idea is to make the city attractive to businesses

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comNovember 6, 2012 

— In an ongoing effort to lure more business to the area, the Merced City Council voted unanimously to move forward with an ordinance to cut public facility impact fees by more than half.

"I think it's like a stimulus package," said Councilman Bill Blake. "It will make people want to invest.

Councilman Mike Murphy, who served on the task force, supported the fee reduction, but also tempered his optimism. "We still need to be aggressive on the economic development front," he said.

During a public hearing on the issue, several members of the business community spoke in support of the proposed plan.

"We need other businesses in Merced," said Jason Tucker, owner of Lane Home Furnishings in Merced. "I do believe in reducing these fees and giving our city the ability to market Merced. As a businessman, I support this."

No one spoke in opposition.

Impact fees are charged to developers to pay for building public infrastructure such as roads, bridges, railroad crossings, police stations and other city facilities to meet the needs of new development.

In recent years, the city has taken steps to lower impact fees temporarily. The proposed ordinance would lower impact fees further and keep the reductions in place for the foreseeable future.

The move follows the recommendation made in September by a task force composed of business owners, community members and council members.

"I just want to thank them for their time and efforts, as well as the three council members that were involved," said Councilman Tony Dossetti. "It's a pretty good project."

Local officials said fees can be safely reduced because growth in the city has dramatically decreased over recent years.

At the same time, a drop in land prices and construction costs will allow municipal projects to be built more cheaply than originally anticipated, according to city staff.

The city plans to scale back several infrastructure projects, including plans to build fire stations, parks and bikeways. The city still has plans for a new police station, but it's scheduled to be built sometime in the next 20 years.

The City Council will vote on the plan Nov. 19 at its next meeting. If approved, the fee reductions will go into effect Feb. 1.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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