Paso looks into revenue option

A proposal to temporarily waive thousands of dollars in developer fees benefiting the community in order to stimulate a dwindling building industry was ultimately turned down Tuesday by the Paso Robles City Council.

The proposal was brought forth by Councilman Nick Gilman and was met with a lengthy public debate and a 3-2 council vote.

The hope behind it was that new construction jobs would come to town if the city gave more incentives to build there.

“It’s an emergency situation in the construction industry,” Gilman, a longtime architect, said.

One building contractor who spoke Tuesday said the financial burden is so great that he didn’t make any money for his son’s college fund after selling a home in June; instead, his profits went to building debt and the city’s development impact fees.

Those fees, ranging from about $20,000 for a new single-family residence to about $9 per square foot on commercial buildings, go into pools of money for various preapproved projects and city services — such as police, parks and transportation — that are usually impacted by the growth development brings.

Those against waiving the fees maintained that taxpayers would eventually have to front the cash for the needed projects because the waived fees won’t be replaced with city funds amid the budget shortfall.

While the councilmembers expressed concern for the dismal state of the local building industry, Councilmen Ed Steinbeck and John Hamon were not supportive of immediate discounts without looking at the long range effects.

“I’m in favor of (providing) some help,” Hamon said, but not at the expense of allowing a “freebie.”

Mayor Pro Tem Fred Strong didn’t want to provide gifts either, and suggested looking into alternative funding to help out.

With Tuesday’s vote, the council did approve forming a committee to review the impact fees’ needs list and remove projects that are not essential. In 2009, the council took a performing arts center and an aquatics complex off the list, reducing impact fees by more than $3,000 for a single-family residence.

Meanwhile, a separate list review is slated for 2011 in a larger growth study.

The committee also has the option of taking a closer look at what freezing the development impact fees would mean for taxpayers, and examining alternatives for helping the construction industry.

Strong and Gilman were appointed to the committee Tuesday. They’re slated to return to the council in March with their first batch of findings.