Impact fee trial begins Monday

COVINGTON - Two years after a lawsuit was filed against Newton County by local and state home builders associations over its impact fee ordinance, the case is going to trial.

The trial will get under way at 9 a.m. Monday in Newton County Superior Court before Judge Horace Johnson, Newton County Home Builders past president Alan Freeman said.

The county's impact fee program, enacted in March 2005, is expected to net $50 million over 10 years for roads, library and parks and recreation projects.

The Newton County Home Builders Association and the Home Builders Association of Georgia filed suit against the county in December 2005, alleging that commissioners illegally shifted the bulk of the burden of impact fees onto residential development.

The suit claims that following the commissioners' request to impact fee consultants to rework the fees so residential development would be more impacted, consultants manipulated data used to calculate fees for road construction, pushing residential numbers up without supporting documentation.

The associations also asked for an injunction requiring the fees be held in an escrow account until the court issued a ruling on the suit.

In October 2006, Johnson denied that request. That ruling was later upheld by the Georgia Court of Appeals.

The associations then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

In September, the court refused to hear the appeal, freeing the county to spend the money.

The county has collected $6.51 million in impact fees since March 2005, but has yet to spend any toward projects, Impact Fee Coordinator Kellie Lundy said.

Attorneys for the county and home builders association could not be reached for comment.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.