RTIF before council as fee suspension nears end

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comDecember 27, 2012 

A highly debated topic in 2012 will rear its head again in early January.

City Council introduced the one-year suspension of Regional Transportation Impact Fees in January 2012. Acting City Manager Gary Brizzee said the issue will be on the Jan. 2 agenda as a discussion item.

The RTIF is a fee that developers pay when they build a project in the county that will increase traffic levels. The money collected then goes into a Merced County Association of Governments, or MCAG, fund to be used for regional traffic projects, such as the Highway 152 bypass, the Atwater-Merced Highway and the Gustine Truck Route.

City Council debated the topic for months going back to 2011.

Los Banos was not unique in the venture. Other area jurisdictions with reduced or suspended impact fees include Merced, Sanger, Paso Robles, Hanford and Fresno County.

Advocates for suspension called it a way to buck up business in Los Banos, which has a 15 percent unemployment rate. Its opponents said developers needed to do their due diligence and take care of impacts they were imposing.

Advocates also opposed sending money to MCAG, while opponents argued a suspension would kill the decades-old Los Banos Bypass.

Local impact fees remain in place.

MCAG public information officer Lori Flanders in January said the suspension effectively slowed all regional projects, but the bypass remains its No. 1 funding priority.

Since the suspension of RTIF, the 69,300 square feet of planned expansion for the Walmart Supercenter, roughly 12,000-square-foot Les Schwab Tire Center and 6,800 square feet of the joint am-pm and McDonald's site have not generated what would have been $618,948 in RTIF funds.

RTIF rates for commercial and industrial buildings were set between $1,409 and $12,082 per 1,000 square feet. The rate is dependent on the building's size, type and turnover rate.

Advocates for suspension argue development in town is due to fewer fees.

The topic of suspension, this time around, may not be as hotly debated among City Council members. It was introduced in 2012 by a 3-2 vote.

Advocates for suspension Mayor Mike Villalta and Councilman Tom Faria remain on the council, and have gained like-minded Councilwoman Deborah Lewis, who ran with RTIF suspension in her platform.

Councilman Scott Silveira, the third vote for suspension in January, also remains.

Opponent of suspension Councilwoman Elizabeth Stonegrove retained her council seat after the election, but staunch opponent Joe Sousa no longer sits on the board.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos

enterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.

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