VALPARAISO | The impact of the parks' impact fee on the city's parks department budget is growing again after going through a couple of years when the fee was waived to try to encourage development.
The fee, which is assessed only on residential construction, was suspended during the 2011 and 2012 construction seasons when new home construction was at a low ebb in the nation and in Valparaiso.
City Building Commissioner Vicki Thrasher said the city went from 67 building permits for new homes in 2007 to just 29 in 2008, 27 and five permits for duplexes in 2009, and 32 single-family permits and six duplexes in 2010. Despite waiving the impact fee in 2011, only 38 single-family permits were issued along with four for duplexes.
The market started to turn around in 2012 and the city issued 85 single-family permits and nine for duplexes when the city did not collect the fee. The recovery continued in 2013, and the city resumed collecting the fee on 96 single-family homes and 12 duplexes.
The impact fee is assessed when the occupancy permit is issued and is $974 for a single-family home, $828 per unit for duplexes, $614 per unit for apartment complexes and $487 per unit for assisted living facilities.
The parks department has a lot of parks with a lot of needs, but the impact fees can only be used to meet the needs resulting from new people moving into the city. Parks Director John Seibert said, so far, that has meant using most of the money on pathways.
"A lot of what we are concentrating on now is infrastructure replacement, and we can't use it for that," Seibert said. "In years past we used the fees for the Butterfly Meadows playground because that was all new. We are always looking at the potential for new properties and the opportunities those might present as they are acquired and developed."
The city plans a major expansion of Central Park Plaza with a skating rink and other amenities, but Seibert said there are no plans to use the impact fees because the city expects to complete it with other funds, including the $3 million donation for the ice rink from the Urschel family.
"It's been more about building more pathways along with the Redevelopment Commission funds and hold the impact fee money for additional property acquisition and things on the existing properties once we get the current projects, like ValPlayso and other infrastructure, done. Our master plan is to take care of what we've got, and that's what we've been concentrating on."
The highest balance available in the impact fees was about $300,000, but even with balances of $100,000 or $200,000, the money doesn't go far when trying to obtain property for new parks at $40,000 to $80,000 an acre, Seibert said. Instead of spending it, the strategy is to build up a cash reserve to use when a big project or purchase is needed.
"We are looking on the east side at a variety of options," he said. "We have nothing farther east than the 200 East Park, so we are keeping an eye out for possible property there."
The development of The Lakes of Valparaiso between Evans Avenue and Vale Park Road east of Ind. 49 with 408 apartments could provide an opportunity and funding, but it could be several years before that project is built out and occupied.
"We don't need to spend the money every year," Seibert said. "We try to use it to get the biggest bang for the buck."
That's how impact fees can have an impact.