As the legislative session began, he threatened an attempt to abolish impact fees altogether.
Now Sen. Steve Poulton, R-Holladay, is back with an 11th-hour effort to restrict local governments' ability to charge new-home buyers for the infrastructure their developments require.Poulton's SB226, introduced Friday, places a 2 percent cap on the total amount cities, counties and special service districts can charge in impact fees.
It also sets up an arbitration process for property owners who believe they've been charged too much in impact fees, and carries a stiff penalty for governmental entities that break the law by charging too much.
Impact fees vary by location. They are charges assessed to developers, per home, for the cost of providing services such as water, sewer, streets, parks and recreation, trails, and police and fire protection. The developer typically passes the cost on to the homebuyer.
Utah's impact fees now range from zero to more than $6,000 per home, depending on the area. Poulton's bill would cap impact fees at $3,000 for a home valued at $150,000, or $4,000 for a home that costs $200,000.
In some municipalities, that just wouldn't be enough to cover the cost of infrastructure for new development, say members of the Utah League of Cities and Towns. The rest of the money would have to come from somewhere, they say - most likely from increased property taxes.
In that case, existing residents would be footing part of the bill for newcomers. And Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, for one, doesn't think that's right.
"I think the issue is fairness, and we haven't gotten to it yet," Dolan said.
Dolan and other municipal executives hope the Legislature won't make much progress on SB226 during its final two days. And it probably won't.
The bill was scheduled to be heard in the Senate Tuesday morning, but there may not be enough time for the bill to make it through the legislative process and over to the House before the Legislature adjourns Wednesday night.
Poulton was hoping the bill could be debated in the Senate on Tuesday, but GOP leadership made no guarantee it would be heard, and it was unclear whether Poulton had the support he needed to force a last-minute debate.
The most likely result is that impact fees will be the subject of extensive debate between sessions.
Poulton sees the proposal as a starting point for meaningful dialogue. He decided to introduce the 2 percent cap, he said, after the League of Cities and Towns ignored his requests to discuss what he sees as the runaway escalation of impact fees.
"I've been trying to get them to come to the table for a full year," Poulton said.
Dolan conceded city leaders should have negotiated with Poulton earlier in the session.
But there's nothing like a new bill, introduced late in the session with a chance to sneak through, to garner attention. The League of Cities and Towns mobilized over the weekend and issued a statement Monday opposing the bill.
The 2 percent cap, according to the league, would cause municipalities to either prohibit new construction or raise property taxes significantly, placing a burden on homeowners with moderate and fixed incomes.
Even Poulton admits the 2 percent cap is problematic. If a water district, a sewer district and a local government all are competing for the same pool of money, for example, how do you decide which entity gets what amount, Poulton asked.
Poulton said he might remove the 2 percent cap from the bill if it would enable the second part of his measure, the arbitration process, to pass. Under that language in the bill, individual homeowners could protest impact fees to an arbitrator. And if the arbitrator agrees the impact fees were unlawfully imposed, the cities would have to pay for the cost of the arbitration process and pay damages three times the amount of the overcharge. Dolan said the cities had proposed a similar arbitration process, but the damage payment would have been double the overage, not triple, and cities would have had 30 days to correct the error and refund the overcharged amount without having to pay damages.