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Johnston raises development fees

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SMITHFIELD — County Commissioners on Monday raised the fees builders pay to tap onto Johnston’s water and sewer systems.

County leaders say the aim of Johnston’s “system development fees” is to ensure that newcomers shoulder the cost of expanding the county’s water and sewer systems.

“The system-development fee protects existing customers by allowing growth to pay for growth,” Chandra Farmer, the county’s director of public utilities, told commissioners earlier this month.

Counties and towns in North Carolina have been levying system-development fees since state lawmakers told them that so-called “impact fees” were a no-no in North Carolina.

Ted Godwin is chairman of the Johnston County Board of Commissioners. “We have citizens ask us from time to time about impact fees, and obviously, by legislation, we can’t charge impact fees,” he said at the board’s June 1 meeting. “But this is one way to let growth pay for growth.”

Under the fee increases, the cost of hooking a new house onto the county’s water system will jump from $1,800 to $2,750, an increase of $950, or nearly 53 percent. The cost of tapping onto the county’s sewer system will climb from $3,800 to $4,090, an increase of $290, or 7.6 percent.

Together, the higher water and sewer fees will add as much as $1,240 to the cost of a new home.

And they will be higher than what builders pay in many counties and towns across North Carolina. Based on 2019 fee schedules, Johnston will be higher, for example, than neighboring Raleigh, $3,895; Cary, $4,586; Harnett County, $4,500; and Apex, $5,458. It will, however, be cheaper than Statesville, $7,500, and Camden County, $9,900.

Commercial buildings will pay more too under the new fees. Depending on the size of the meter, the total water and sewer fee will be anywhere from $6,840 to $547,200.

Farmer defended Johnston charging more than other water and sewer providers. “We have to keep in mind the growth we are experiencing,” she said.

That growth will force Johnston to run water and sewer lines to new homes and commercial buildings, and the county will need to expand its water and sewer treatment capacity.

“The reason behind these fees is to pay for these projects,” Farmer said. “This is our means to fund those projects.”