(Daily360.com) – A case has made its way all the way to the Supreme Court that pits a local land owner against a bureaucracy that arbitrarily hands out land development fees. The case was brought by George Sheetz against the county he lives in, El Dorado, located just outside of Lake Tahoe, California.
After 50 years in the construction business Sheetz was ready to retire and build a home on his land but when he filed his building permit the county hit him with a $23,000 “traffic impact mitigation” fee. Sheetz was shocked and blindsided by this fee and was reluctant to pay it. He objected to his local representatives and was told by one county official that if he didn’t like the fee then he shouldn’t bother building in the county. However, Sheetz had already ordered and made the down payment for his manufactured home so he decided that he had no choice but to pay the exorbitant fee.
Sheetz was not done with the matter and sued the county because he believed there was no reason for him to pay a $23,000 fee, that number was certainly not determined by any impact his small 1,800 square-foot home could possibly make on the county’s road traffic. What Sheetz found out was the county simply assesses this fee based on pre-existing budget deficiencies that the local government is trying to make up. Sheetz was of course not responsible for these deficiencies but that doesn’t count for anything regarding the fee assessments.
Sheetz says it’s a game the politicians are playing because they don’t want to be unpopular for raising taxes, so they hit people with large fees to make up for budget shortfalls. The county says it would too expensive for it to assess fees on a case by case basis. Sheetz has been locked in court battles for seven years and has been twice defeated in lower courts. The outcome of this case would likely have serious ramifications on how local governments and their agencies fund their operations. Sheetz says these officials can’t keep doing this; they bankrupt or severely de-fund working people to make up for their own poor performance and budget mismanagement.
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