County taxpayers and future developers could catch a break if the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors moves forward on a potential plan to reduce Traffic Impact Mitigation fees. On his department’s drawing board since late January, DOT chief Jim Ware presented an update on his TIM fee research at last week’s board meeting.
TIM fees were refined under the 2004 General Plan update when development was booming and the impact of increased traffic was expected to be relatively severe in many areas of the county, especially the Cameron Park and El Dorado Hills areas.
Supervisors had directed Ware to explore a number of alternatives to save county money and make some of the fees less onerous to development. The project is connected to the county’s Capital Improvement Program which plans road and infrastructure needs five and 10 years into the future. He outlined several areas for potential savings and adjustments that could include other fee source categories in addition to TIM Fee reduction.
The first possibility would be a “deletion of projects (from the TIM Fee Program) not absolutely necessary for traffic impact mitigation” while maintaining compliance with the General Plan Level of Service requirements.
Ware suggested the Headington Road project and Country Club Drive from Silva Valley Parkway to Bass Lake Road could be considered. The connection project from Palmer Drive to Wild Chaparral Road, while not currently in the TIM Fee program, is expected to be added following completion of environmental documentation.
“Deletion of these and similar projects could result in cost savings,” his summary letter noted. However, “The department is not recommending deletion of any specific projects at this time.”
Instead, he was asking the board to direct DOT to conduct a rather extensive review of all projects within the program and identify the potential for cost savings of each. Determining whether or not the General Plan Environmental Impact Report would need to be revised would fall within the scope of such a study, as would identification of “any other significant issues.”
Ware estimated the cost to review projects in all of the county’s eight TIM Fee zones at $7,000 for 50 hours of staff time.
The second project described relates to the High Occupancy Vehicle lane construction currently under way in the west county. Ware pointed out a potential escape clause for the county regarding that project between Cameron Park Drive and Bass Lake Road. DOT’s Capital Improvement Program currently lists that construction project at a cost to the TIM Fee program fund of nearly $25 million. However, Ware’s document explains that the required funding is expected to be available through a contract with the Red Hawk Casino, and “it is expected the casino revenue will cover the costs.”
“The department is comfortable in deleting this project from the fee program at this time because the county has received two annual payments from the Casino with assurances they will continue to meet their obligation for annual payments,” Ware’s summary stated.
Because the Board of Supervisors opted not to raise TIM Fees in 2009 and 2010 due to the poor local economy, Ware pointed out that the TIM program’s expected revenue had slipped from $995.7 million to $942.9 million. That figure is a projection that extends over a 20-year span. Authorized in the 2004 General Plan, the program actually began in 2006, Ware explained in a phone conversation Thursday. He clarified to the board that removing the Highway 50 HOV lane project would “help reduce that gap but will not eliminate it.”
Prior to 2009-2010, Ware said the program generally assumed a 2 percent to 3 percent increase, and “every five years we scrub all the numbers,” to ensure consistency and basically to check the math.
TIM Fees vary significantly from zone to zone. Proposing a single-family home in Cameron Park, zone 2, for example, would currently cost the builder $41,700 and change — due and payable prior to approval of a permit. In zone 8, which includes most of El Dorado Hills, the fee would be $32,420. Up the hill in Pollock Pines, zone 5, the same project would only require $15,660, Ware explained.
The difference is based on projections of anticipated road use in each zone as well as its probable impact on the county overall. Zone 8, however, is treated as a discreet entity and traffic impact there is calculated separately from the other seven zones.
Describing optional categories that could alter TIM Fees, Ware noted that one clear example could be “age-restricted housing.” A proposed development for a low density senior housing community with certain amenities for a certain number of units might warrant a lower TIM Fee because of assumptions that seniors would tend to drive less than the working population. Fewer trips per day and perhaps fewer vehicles per household should translate into less impact to the local infrastructure.
“In that case, maybe we don’t need to build that infrastructure,” he said.
As a result, the impact fee could be reduced, perhaps significantly, or even treated as a separate revenue category, he explained.
In addition to a smaller impact on existing roads, Ware noted that projections for an older demographic typically suggest a somewhat higher household income and greater likelihood of shopping and spending locally for goods and services.
The county also could lower fees as part of an effort to attract certain types of industries or projects designed for mixed use. Ware used medical technology and research as one example that has often surfaced in discussions of economic development.
Supervisors directed Ware and DOT to continue working with the county’s Economic Development Advisory Committee, particularly the subcommittee addressing regulatory reform issues surrounding building and development.
Part of his research has involved inviting professional engineers and other experts to review the county’s CIP and TIM Fee projects. These volunteers are contributing high value expertise to assessing actual costs of DOT’s proposed projects with a view toward saving the county a significant amount of money and ultimately reducing TIM Fees, Ware said.