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Valuing Forsyths parks: Proposal to raise impact fees for amenities
ParksValue 8 Web

By the numbers

* 21: number of parks

* $51,405: Land value per acre in impact fee study

* $57,039: Proposed new land value in price per acre

* 830 acres and $18,273,200: Largest Park and highest land value, Sawnee Mountain Preserve

* $132,718,480: Total land value of parks

* $70,249,634: Total land cost to county

* $30,192: Average paid by county per acre of land

* 2,326.80: Total park acreage

* 1977: Year land for the county's oldest park, Bennett Park, was purchased

Funding for county park projects was a hot topic this week for Forsyth County.

During a commission work session on Tuesday and a special called parks committee meeting on Wednesday, county officials voted 5-0 to move forward with updating the county’s impact fee ordinance surrounding park property values and discussed funding for upcoming projects, respectfully.

For the impact fee issue, the county attempted to find better data for true value of park land for the county’s impact fee ordinance. County Attorney Ken Jarrard said his staff would begin working with county staff to update the ordinance and that a public hearing should be held within the month.

“In the impact fee study, a lot of these were picked up off the tax digest as it stood last year,” said Dave Gruen, the county’s chief financial officer. “They don’t update these every year the way they do taxable parcels, so these appear in different ways at different times.”

Impact fees are charges for new building that help cover the cost of increased demand on roads, infrastructure, services and amenities.

In April, Forsyth County commissioners approved a new impact fee structure for new developments in the county, and discussions leading up to the decision focused heavily on road impact fees, which were approved.

About two weeks later, they discussed taking another look at impact fees for parks after an issue arose with funding for parks and recreation, which has received significant funding in recent years from the shrinking parks, recreation and green space bond that was originally approved by voters in 2008.

Gruen said he worked with Tax Assessor Mary Kirkpatrick to get a better handle on the actual values of park property. After the study, the average price per acre rose.

“The average per-acre cost comes down to $57,039 per acre,” he said. “If you compare that to where we were in the study, a combination of some historical costs and some of the tax digest values, the impact fee for park acreage was $51,405.”

He said the more accurate numbers would bring in increased impact fee revenue.

“I took the formula and dropped it in a spreadsheet where I could change any factors and see what the answer is,” Gruen said. “For each $1,000 there is about a 3 percent difference in the park impact fees. When I dropped this value in there … the bottom line was it came out to a 16.85 [percent] increase in park impact fees if we just change this one factor.”

Gruen said for a single-family detached home, the fee to build new development in Forsyth would rise from $1,015 dollars to $1,186 and that multi-family would go from $645 to $754, which would go toward county parks.

In Wednesday’s meeting, he said the fees would generate about $500,000 per year for parks.

Jarrard said during Tuesday’s meeting that the change would not require reconvening the advisory committee that met to discuss impact fees last year and would only require a change to the ordinance.

Previously in the meeting, commissioners approved a public hearing to be held on Aug. 18 for the 2015 annual impact fee update.

Funding future projects

The next day, the parks committee discussed how to fund ongoing and future park projects. Like the other meeting, the discussion was due to a lack of available funds.

“We’re running short on our pots of money,” Parks Director Jim Pryor said. “So, I wanted to think of projects that we have talked about or are coming in the future and talk about them and prioritize.”

Many of the park projects fall into “Category B” projects in SPLOST VII, which are done only if all “Category A” projects are funded, but several road widening projects that were originally “Category B” are now being funded through the county’s $200 million transportation bond approved by voters in 2010.

SPLOST monies are voter-approved, tax-based funding.

The group will meet again once the amount available for “Category B” is clearer. Commissioners will discuss the SPLOST projects at a future meeting.

The committee recommended funding Phase 1 of the county’s Eagle Beak Park project in north Forsyth with the park bond and SPLOST greenspace funds. It will be a passive park, meaning it is intended for greenspace rather than sports and other activities.

Group members said impact fees could help with certain unfunded projects.

Pryor said three items — chemical storage buildings at parks, a Bennet Park erosion drainage project and playground resurfacing at Sharon Springs — are immediate needs. The committee approved those 5-0, with the total cost of projects being $210,000.

Those items will next go to the county commission for final approval.