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Municipal Consulting

Impact Fee Studies

Impact fees are charged by governments (cities, counties, local districts, and special service districts) to developers as a condition prerequisite to the issuance of a building permit or plat recording. The fee is designed to capture the impact of development on the community's infrastructure. Impact fees are commonly charged for water, sewer, storm drain, police, fire protection, parks, etc. The concept is that development will force the city to spend money to build more of all of the above to service new residents and businesses. The fees collected are set aside and dedicated to pay for this additional infrastructure.

Some state laws require that a city complete an impact fee study prior to being able to impose the fee. A separate study is required for each type of infrastructure for which the city wants to impose a fee. State law may also dictate some of the procedures that must be used in developing the fee.

Utility Rate Studies

Rate studies are used to develop a set of utility rates and charges that best meet the goals and objectives of water, sewer, electrical, and storm drain systems. Such studies try to anticipate the funding of long term capital improvement plans, changing demands and costs of the utility system, population shifts, commercial and residential development, and other significant factors.

The goals of these studies may include:

  1. Generating additional revenues to keep up with inflation;
  2. Generating additional revenues to fund needed infrastructure improvements and expansions;
  3. Making rate structures fair for all users. This may involve simplifying a complicated rate structure or encouraging conservation;
  4. Complying with engineering design, regulatory, or bonding requirements;
  5. Examining and modifying utility policies, including extension policies, connection fees, etc., to ensure that new customers are not allowed to connect to the system at the expense of existing customers;
  6. Developing rate and policy information that is easy to explain to rate payers; and
  7. Reducing rates for various sectors of the user base

Tax Increment Studies

These studies are conducted to evaluate whether redevelopment areas (Urban Renewal Areas (URAs), Economic Development Areas (EDAs) and Community Development Area (CDAs)) are feasible and appropriate as well as to forecast tax increment revenues throughout the life of the proposed redevelopment area. Such reports usually include both a Project Area Plan and Multi-Year Project Area Budget (tax increment projections and anticipated expenditures).

The URA analysis includes a “blight” study while the EDA analysis requires a cost-benefit analysis that evaluates new job creation. There has been increased demand for redevelopment studies in the past few years. In fact, in order for some states' Economic Development divisions to participate on a project, they require local communities to participate with tax increment as well, thus necessitating more of these studies at the local level.

After a redevelopment area is formed, the RDA must usually submit annual reports as required by state law. We have been engaged to prepare these reports, update budgets and oversee administration.

Economic Development Studies

Strategic economic development plans are created to assist communities in developing a sustainable tax base with a good balance of revenue sources. These studies generally include analysis of the government's existing and planned infrastructure, transportation plans, land use and zoning, retail sales leakage, the buying power of the municipality’s population, etc. They often identify economic districts within the community; potential commercial development sites and provide goals, strategies and action plans for implementation.

These studies can also target the specific effects of proposed development (both commercial and residential) on the overall tax base. Such analysis can assist the municipality in determining whether it wants to provide incentives or tax breaks to a specific business or developer.

Business License Fee Studies

Business license fee studies are used to assist municipalities in setting appropriate fees for business licenses that comply with current Utah Code. Such fees reflect base service costs, regulatory costs and disproportionate costs of services incurred by various business types. Business license fee studies also calculate the residential rental housing cost for municipalities which is a necessary component of the Good Landlord Program which has seen heightened interest in recent years.

Other Fee Studies

Other fee studies are needed by communities for services provided such as planning and engineering, recreation, cemetery, etc. These are “cost-of-service” studies that establish fair, defensible and credible fees by identifying the true cost of providing various services.

VARIOUS FEASIBILITY STUDIES

Feasibility studies are undertaken to help determine whether or not a certain project or course of action is financially feasible. Such studies are conducted for a variety of potential municipal projects or activities such as recreation centers, convention centers, landfills, golf courses, planetariums, potential incorporations, annexations, school district divisions, school bus routes, marina uses, private/public partnerships, and many other purposes.

ECONOMIC / FISCAL IMPACT STUDIES

Like feasibility studies, economic impact studies are used for a wide variety of purposes. They measure the financial impact of various public or private developments (freeway interchanges, airports, housing developments, retail developments, sports arenas, etc.), or various courses of action (change in form of government, proposed laws or regulations, changes in zoning, etc.).

In some cases input-output modeling (“multiplier” analysis) is used to identify impacts on the region from job creation and wages paid. Software programs such as Implan are required for this type of analysis.

HOUSING PLANS FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Some state laws require that communities include a housing element in their general plans that evaluates whether there is a “reasonable opportunity” for moderate-income households (based on HUD definitions) to live within a community. Many communities also engage consultants to prepare separate housing studies that are more detailed than the housing elements of their general plans by including an analysis of items such as product mix, lifecycle housing, special needs population and housing, housing funding sources, etc.

Some governmental entities are also required to periodically complete housing studies that include an Analysis of Impediments (AI) to fair housing.

ASSET MANAGEMENT ASSESSMENT

Asset management refers to the evolving science of optimizing the life and utility of critical infrastructure, minimizing the costs of operation, and developing the most cost effective plans that maximize the benefit of each dollar spent on infrastructure. These efforts cross many disciplines, the most prominent of which are financial planning, engineering, and GIS (geographic information systems).

Asset management is being heavily promoted and is a topic of great interest at American Water Works Association (AWWA) national conferences as it is applicable to all utilities large and small.

CAPITAL FACILITY AND FINANCE PLANS

Planning ahead is good management and capital facility and finance plans can help your jurisdiction use its funding wisely and efficiently to maximize opportunities. Capital facility and finance plans can be prepared, in conjunction with a team of consultants where appropriate, for public safety, parks and recreation, schools districts, etc. Capital facility options can also be evaluated. For example, for school districts these plans have evaluated a variety of factors including number of portables, busing guidelines, calendar schedules, boundary change guidelines, with the resulting costs and timeline of new facilities varying greatly depending on the various inputs. Financing options for the various scenarios are included and compared as part of the capital facility plans.

NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (NEPA) STUDIES

These studies are better known as Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) that are required under federal law for actions that use federal funds and that can significantly impact the environment - socially, economically, environmentally, etc. Our portion of a NEPA study is usually focused on gathering demographic information, evaluating impacts to changing land uses and land values from various alternatives and public involvement. We also might be asked to perform financial calculations required to measure socio-demographic and economic impacts of various alternatives. We do not opine on the environmental impact of any improvement or project.

COMMUNITY SURVEYS

Community surveys are often conducted as part of planning processes in communities. We work with the community to draft a survey, which it prints and mails, either with its water bills or through a separate mailing service. The survey is often posted on the City's website as well. The consultants compile, analyze the data, ensure statistical accuracy and present it to the City.

MARKET ANALYSIS / REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT

These studies involve assessing current market projections for various types of development, including residential, office, industrial/business park and retail. Projections are made for absorption of various types of development, along with market pricing. Where highest and best use is analyzed, current capitalization (cap) rates are utilized to assess residual land values.

We do this type of analysis for cities that want direction with redevelopment areas and the amount of public assistance required for certain development types (i.e., how much do we need to subsidize a parking garage in order to make this work and attract a developer?) or for specific areas of property, as well as for private developers.

GIS

GIS is an important mapping and analysis tool that is used in many of the above studies. It also has some potential for separate studies, with some interest on the part of understaffed municipalities and counties to outsource occasional projects or data management.

GENERAL PLAN

Some state laws require that each municipality prepare and adopt a comprehensive, long-range general plan for the present and future needs of the municipality and for the growth and development of all or any part of the land within the municipality. Counties may have similar requirements.

The general plan is the foundation for establishing general land use goals, zoning guidelines, and activities allowed on each land parcel to provide compatibility and continuity to the entire region as well as each individual neighborhood.

A general plan may address such topics as the desired location of residential versus commercial development, desired transportation corridors, public facilities, services and safety, recreation, historic preservation, housing, noise, etc.

Municipal studies consultants frequently team up with professional planners, city planners and management, engineers, transportation experts, housing authorities, developers, etc. to develop a general plan for a city. Municipal consultants' involvement in the other types of studies identified above gives them information that is helpful in the development or revision of a municipality's general plan, particularly in the areas of population projections, housing, economic development, potential annexation areas, and redevelopment

GRANT APPLICATIONS

We are often asked to help municipalities with grant applications. This involves assisting the municipality in researching, writing, and submitting applications for federal or state grants for municipal purposes. These may include grants for housing (HUD), community development (CDBG), economic development, disaster management (FEMA), air transportation (FAA), rural development (USDA), mass transit (FTA), brownfields assessment/cleanup (EPA), etc.