Impact Fee Proposal Raises Tempers In Ocean Springs

Ocean Springs residents, developers and home builders packed City Hall Monday night. Many spoke against a proposal to charge developers an impact fee for each new house or business they build.

Resident Glenn Lancaster says "I won't be able to build another house in this city. I've built 3 homes in Ocean Springs, and to come up the money up front, I can't do it".

City Planner Donovan Scruggs says right now, developers only pay a $400 impact fee per lot in a new subdivision. Under the proposal, developers would have to pay $2,500 per lot. Plus, builders would have to pay an extra $2,100 to build a house on that lot. The fee would generate about $10 million over the years to help the city recoup costs for things like water, streets, neighborhood parks and fire and police vehicles.

Developer Randall Wrigley disputed some of the numbers in the city's impact fee study. Randall Wrigley says "What you're saying then, on a case by case basis, is sewer will be added to the $4,600 per lot?. Scrugges replied "It may be necessary".  He also says the number of people expected to move into the city over the next five years won't be as high as the city claims.

Many people say the fee is unfair. Glenn Lancaster says "We have to come up with $4,600 just to do this, and that's in addition to a building permit. I'm wondering why is this called a fee and not a tax?"

The attorney for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Home Builders Association also says the extra charge is illegal, because there is no state statute that would allow for an impact fee. Steve Smith says "Without statewide enabling legislation, there is no authority for the city of Ocean Springs or any municipality in Mississippi to adopt an impact fee ordinance".

Smith also asked the city to postpone making a decision on impact fees until there's a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court is deciding the legality of impact fees in Madison, Mississippi. No word yet on when the Ocean Springs Board of Aldermen will vote on the matter.

By: Trang Pham-Bui