This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Public policy decisions made in haste are like that pair of earbuds stuffed in the bottom of your backpack. Difficult to untangle, but useless until you do.
This is the situation facing the Salt Lake City Council and Mayor Jackie Biskupski as they try to unsnarl a bad call made by the previous mayor and council. The one that placed a moratorium on the collection of impact fees normally assessed on homes, apartments and commercial properties built in the city.
Because they couldn't figure out what to do for a year now, the moratorium was extended Tuesday for, perhaps, another four months, at an estimated cost of $500,000 per.
It was understandable that then-Mayor Ralph Becker and a council majority worried that the list of fees charged to fund new streets, utilities, parks and public safety facilities made necessary by increased population might have gone off kilter over the years. That some builders might be paying too little, others too much and everyone not realizing the maximum benefits that such a fee system should provide.
But declining to collect the impact fees that would have been charged for a year was a mistake that has already cost all taxpayers, present and future, $7.1 million.
As a candidate challenging Becker last fall, Biskupski opposed the moratorium, a view this space agreed with. But, as mayor, Biskupski has presided over a sloppy process that is costing the city big bucks that it cannot afford to lose.
It is a serious complication that state law made by a Legislature where real estate developers have disproportionate sway sets many limits on the things impact fee revenue can be spent on and imposes a complex maze of studies and reviews a city must go through to justify its needs.
But impact fee money spent even on a limited list of allowable uses would free up other funds the city could use for other purposes, everything from energy efficiency to affordable housing.
The city might well decide the best long-view approach is to push the Legislature to give cities more freedom in setting and spending the fees. For things like energy efficiency and affordable housing. In the meantime, the fees should resume.
(To really go for broke, and to save current taxpayers tons of money, someone needs to push the state to allow school districts to assess impact fees as well.)
The mayor and the council have blamed each other for the ongoing delay while everyone waited for a consultant's study. But it is now everyone's responsibility to end the studying and pondering, stop giving fast or lucky developers a pass on their responsibilities, and put a new fee structure in place just as quickly as possible.