Pitkin County ponders new way to calculate housing fee | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County ponders new way to calculate housing fee

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times

A new method of calculating the impact fee levied on development in Pitkin County to pay for worker housing is advancing, albeit tentatively, with a nod from county commissioners Tuesday.

Commissioners, with Rachel Richards absent, peppered County Attorney John Ely and Tom McCabe, director of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority, with questions about the proposed new way of calculating the impact fee. The fee revenues are used to provide worker housing.

Next, Ely said, commissioners will be asked to approve a resolution that directs staffers to come up with a proposed impact fee using the new methodology. The more difficult decision will be deciding on the actual fee, which will be a separate decision, he said.

The proposed “market-affordability gap methodology” will produce a cost per employee for housing that reflects the difference between what the worker can afford and what it actually costs to secure housing in the county.

A comparison prepared by consultants puts the 2012 county impact fee per full-time worker around $39,000 and indicated the true gap, which could be assessed to development and reasonably defended in court, is about $277,000.

That doesn’t mean the county has to assess 100 percent of the fee it could charge, commissioners were told.

“The current fee is about 14 percent of what this method would justify,” McCabe said, adding that he doesn’t anticipate charging $277,000 per employee generated by new development.

“That has sticker shock associated with it that no one can appreciate,” he said.

“You have a great degree of latitude to decide whatever would be appropriate,” Ely said.

The existing county impact fee, which Ely said was flawed from the start, is a reflection of land and construction costs at a certain point in time. It’s a complicated calculation that doesn’t stay current with market conditions but isn’t updated regularly because of its complexity, McCabe added.

The existing fee, according to McCabe, doesn’t come close to covering the true cost of providing housing.

The Aspen City Council also has been approached about adopting the new methodology, though it could decide to charge different fees.

Commissioner Michael Owsley questioned how defensible the methodology will be in court if it generates different fees in the two jurisdictions, while Commissioner Rob Ittner asked why the calculation focuses on the cost of housing in Pitkin County when many workers live in less expensive areas of the Roaring Fork Valley.

“It is reasonable for us to look at the gap in the Aspen market,” Ely said, since that is where local governments have traditionally supplied housing. The methodology is reasonable even if the two governments choose to levy different fees, he added.

“If we wait till both boards are completely aligned on an appropriate level of fee, we could be waiting a long time,” Ely said.

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