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January 20, 2008

Impact fees may increase to fund public safety improvements

WINDHAM - Developers may have to chip in more money to help cover the cost of public safety and recreation facilities in town.

Since 1998, developers have been required to pay fees to help cover capital improvements for Windham schools.

Now, town planners are considering establishing new fees to help pay for everything from a second fire station to a future expansion of the police station, Planning Director Al Turner Jr. said.

A town consultant has recommended charging developers a $1,000 impact fee per house for future Fire Department facilities, which could include a second fire station, and a $500 fee per house that would go toward police facilities, which could include an expanded police station in the future, Turner said. The fees are calculated to reflect the demand each new home puts on public safety and other town services, he said.

The company has not yet come up with a recommended fee for recreational facilities, he said. It will use a nearly finished recreation master plan to help calculate that impact fee, he said.

The Planning Board also will look at increasing the current $3,400 school impact fee developers are assessed for each home they build. This fee was increased from $2,200 to $3,400 in 2004, and it is likely to go up even higher, due to the construction of the town's first high school, Turner said.

Eventually, town planners may consider establishing impact fees to generate money for road improvements and major improvements to the town library, he said.

Impact fees are designed to ease the financial pressure on taxpayers that a town's growing population puts on schools, public safety and recreational services.

A growing number of communities have established impact fees, including Salem and Londonderry. Salem charges impact fees for school, recreation and public safety facilities.

The Windham Planning Board will hold workshops and public hearings before adopting any new fees.

Even though the Planning Board has the authority to establish impact fees, a Town Meeting warrant article dealing with the subject will be on the March ballot. It is aimed at updating and clarifying the language in existing town regulations to help ensure the town's impact fees will stand up in court if they are challenged, he said.

Opponents of impact fees say they are unfair because they get passed on to homeowners through higher home prices. Supporters of the fees say they are good for taxpayers because they relieve them from the full brunt of paying for school construction and other municipal capital improvements that are needed to keep up with the construction of new homes.

Since 1998, a total of nearly $2.2 million has been generated though impact fees for school improvements.

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