Impact Fees — Local Government Do's and Don'ts


At the core of local government impact fee debates are similar considerations: impact fees are fees local governments demand developers pay in order to cover any costs related to expanding existing services or adding new ones required by development projects.Which should be first the community that is being built or the infrastructure needed to help it? In addition to making things more complicated, coordinating the development of sustainable growth and economic interests is often an expensive process.

This is why we're exploring the complexities that impact fee fees pose for local officials, developers of real estate, community advocates, business owners and even residents trying to find the right balance.

Impact Fees: An Ethical Way Forward

An impact fee can be understood as a strategy used by local governments to ensure that developers pay their fair share towards infrastructure costs. The concept behind them is quite straightforward - growth must pay for growth - yet its implementation often involves complex legalities and practical considerations.

What Do Impact Fees Fund

Usually, impact fees help to fund capital improvements or services like: Usually, impact fees help to fund capital improvements or services like roads, fire stations, parks, libraries, and schools.

  • Roads and traffic controls
  • Fire and police stations
  • Parks and recreational facilities
  • Libraries and schools

The Legality of Impact Fees

While imposing impact fees is a common practice, local governments circumnavigate a complex legal landscape. Rules can vary from state to state and even municipality to municipality. Always ensure that any scheme involving impact fees complies with relevant local and state laws and court precedents.

The Do’s and Don’ts for Local Governments

Understanding the appropriate uses and misuses of impact fees can aid local governments immensely. So, here are some do's and don'ts to consider when implementing an impact fee program.


  • Conduct a rigorous assessment of additional infrastructure demands: Accurately allocating impact fee proceeds to cater to new infrastructural demands requires a comprehensive understanding of the existing and projected needs of your community.
  • Communicate benefits to the community: Transparent communication can help lessen resistance to this additional cost, particularly if it's clear how these fees will improve the community by funding necessary public services and infrastructure.
  • Know Local Regulations: Be familiar with the specific impact fee regulations and guidelines issued by your local government. Each jurisdiction may have unique needs; keeping up-to-date is critical.
  • Engage Early with Local Authorities: Do establish early communication with local government officials. By engaging in discussions regarding impact fees as soon as planning starts, better understanding and possible collaboration on feasible solutions may ensue.
  • Include Fees When Budgeting: Consider impact fees as part of your budgeting process, to help allocate funds effectively and avoid unexpected financial constraints in the form of last-minute funds that need to be distributed quickly.
  • Negotiate When Appropriate: Do not rule out negotiations with local authorities as an option to reach fair, mutually-beneficial agreements regarding impact fees for your development if it promises substantial community benefits.
  • Partner With Professionals: Always consult professionals, such as land use attorneys or consultants, when it comes to navigating local regulations and negotiating impact fees. Their guidance can prove invaluable in terms of both compliance and optimizing financial outcomes.


  • Avoid relying solely on impact fees for all infrastructure funding: Although impact fees can bring in significant revenue, bankrolling all infrastructure growth costs might scale down the pace of development. Balancing these charges with other financing mechanisms is crucial.
  • Don't impose fees that are disproportionate to the development's impact: The charges should match the scale and type of the development, keeping them legally defensible and equitable.
  • Recklessly Ignoring Local Regulations: Don't overlook local impact fees regulations as this could result in costly fines, delays or legal complications that halt your land development project altogether.
  • Communication With Authorities: Don't Wait to Discuss Impact Fees with Local Agencies: Early communication promotes transparency and collaboration, potentially avoiding misunderstood issues while speeding up approval processes.
  • Avoid Ignoring Exemptions or Credits: Don't overlook potential exemptions or credits available for certain developments, as some jurisdictions offer incentives or relief that align with community goals - missing these options could cost a project an opportunity.
  • Assume a One-Size-Fits-All Approach: Do not assume that impact fees are uniform across jurisdictions; each local government may have its own method and criteria for determining fees, so tailor your approach based on the unique needs of where you're developing.
  • Document Carefully: Do not underestimate the significance of keeping accurate documentation regarding impact fees. Keep a thorough record of communications, negotiations and agreements related to this fee structure - this may become invaluable evidence if disputes or challenges arise in relation to them.

The Impact Fee Landscape: What the Future Holds

As local governments brace for more growth, the usage of impact fees is unlikely to wane. The key, moving forward, is how local officials can implement these charges in a way that simultaneously funds infrastructure, fosters sustainable growth, and safeguards economic interests.


1. What's a Developer Impact fee in California?

An impact fee can be described as a strategy that local governments use to ensure that new developments pay their fair share of the cost of infrastructure. The reasoning behind these fees is very simple: development is required to be able cover the costs of growth. However, implementation can be a complicated web of legal issues and practicalities.

2. What are the advantages from impact fees?

Funding Infrastructure: Impact fees provide dedicated funds for essential infrastructure projects. Fair Cost Allocation: Developers contribute to the costs associated with their projects, ensuring a fair distribution of financial responsibility.

3. What impact will it have on the service fee?

The impact on service fees can be positive, as impact fees help maintain or improve service levels. By funding infrastructure projects, impact fees contribute to enhanced community services without solely relying on general service fees.

4. What are impact charges in construction?

The term "impact charges" in construction refers to the costs imposed on developers to counteract the impact of the new development on public facilities and services. These fees are a part of the total costs of construction and are designed to meet the growing demand for services caused by expansion.

5. What are Utility Impact Fees?

Utilities Impact Fees refer to fees made to developers to help cover the effect of developments on utility services in the local area. These fees are used to fund improvements and expansions to utilities infrastructure, making sure that the communities' water, sewer, and other utilities needs are fully met.

Navigating the intricacies of local government impact fees requires a delicate balance between community development and necessary infrastructure. At the heart of this debate are considerations that impact both developers and local officials alike. Developers Research plays a crucial role in unraveling the complexities surrounding impact fees. Our expertise empowers local governments, real estate developers, community advocates, business owners, and residents to understand, plan, and analyze the impact fee landscape effectively.

Explore our services at Developers Research for comprehensive insights into development impact fees. Research, plan, and communicate to ensure that every penny spent contributes to the well-planned and sustainable development of your community. For further inquiries or consultation, feel free to contact us at Developers Research.