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City Council bumbles talk of suspending impact fees

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

It’s a good idea for the Tucson City Council to be looking at ways of stimulating the moribund local economy.

But the stumbling, bumbling way in which the council approached the idea – before throwing it all in the lap of a task force – does not engender confidence that council members have really thought things through.

Instead, it appears council members are more concerned about the process and who gets the credit and less concerned about the end results.

The debate was publicly launched last week when Councilman Rodney Glassman proposed temporarily suspending impact fees – charges made by the city to developers to cover the infrastructure costs of growth.

Glassman rallied developers and environmentalists behind the idea and pushed it as a way to spur homebuilding and to put people in that industry back to work.

There are a couple of concerns with that proposal:

• The problems with the housing industry are far larger than the cost of Tucson’s impact fees. This is a nationwide and especially an Arizona slowdown. Suspending the fees may have a small, localized effect, but it won’t be significant.

• Should impact fees be suspended equally and entirely citywide? Wouldn’t it make more sense to give larger breaks to development in the city core, where infrastructure already is in place while giving smaller or no breaks to development on the periphery?

• What would the fee suspension mean for the city’s goal of increasing affordable housing?

• They are called “impact fees” for a reason. Development does have a financial impact on the city. If fees are not collected, that doesn’t mean the cost of the impact vanishes. It merely shifts the cost to other taxpayers.

Nonetheless, a discussion of the proposal was sidetracked by angry council members who claimed Glassman took credit for an idea some of them already were considering.

Fine. A good idea has a thousand fathers, but a bad idea is an orphan.

So Glassman’s idea was booted to one of the city’s ubiquitous task forces. The group of undetermined size and makeup is supposed to discuss the proposal and come back with a recommendation within 30 days.

That doesn’t make much sense. The task force members haven’t all been selected. Yet it has been determined that the group’s discussions will be coordinated by the Metropolitan-Pima Alliance, whose members are largely in the building industry.

If council members want to discuss ways of stimulating the local economy, they should look at available options and work with city staff to evaluate the relative merits and disadvantages of each. Then they should make a decision without first filtering it through a task force of undetermined composition and unclear usefulness.

Our confidence level is not high.

Instead of discussing the proposal, the council discussed who should get credit, then booted it to a task force.

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