Board commissions study on countywide impact fees

Diane Sieker photo

Riverside County supervisors have approved a $354,000 contract with a consulting firm to study the county’s development impact fee program and determine how much will be available in the coming years and where that revenue might best be spent.

The professional services agreement with Temecula-based Willdan Financial Services was authorized without comment on a 4-0 vote, Tuesday, Oct. 1, with Supervisor Karen Spiegel absent.

Under the contract, the firm will be responsible for completing a “DIF Nexus Study” covering the period 2020-2030. The last study was nearly six years ago.

The county collects tens of millions of dollars annually in DIF fees from projects in unincorporated communities. The fees, which were implemented under a 2001 ordinance, are imposed on residential and commercial developers as part of the county permitting process for the construction of homes, office buildings, apartment complexes, warehouses and other private facilities.

Fees can range from a couple of thousand dollars to more than $45,000 per unit or acre, depending on the character and size of the project. Smaller construction jobs, such as guest houses and additions to existing homes, qualify for fee waivers.

Fees are collected within 20 designated county services areas. Revenue cannot be spent to meet the board’s discretionary needs, per state law, but instead must be set aside for infrastructure and other defined public projects, funding jail expansions, roadway grade separations, fire station and correctional facility expansions, library book acquisitions and transportation corridor improvements.

In mid-2009, DIFs were chopped in half under a board-initiated economic stimulus plan to encourage construction projects during the Great Recession. The fees remain capped at the lower level until early 2015, when the supervisors approved raising them again.

The Willdan agreement specifies that researchers will analyze the county’s fees and compare them to surrounding jurisdictions. The analysis will also focus on whether DIFs are overlapping with other mitigation fees, and there will be an emphasis on exploring how to revise the payment categories and the boundaries that demarcate the different county service areas.

Willdan’s personnel will be further tasked with developing a forecast of future DIF revenue and identifying the county’s public facilities needs to which funds may be applied, according to the contract terms.

The study may require up to six presentations to the board, during which builders and any member of the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on fee structure and fairness, according to the county executive office.

Willdan was selected following an evaluation of only one other prospect in the bidding process for the nexus study contract.