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Proffer bill upsets Stafford officials
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
RICHMOND--Stafford County supervisors are angry about a General Assembly bill they say is targeting Stafford and a few other localities.
It would let judges award legal fees to developers if the developers sued localities and won based on a dispute about how cash proffers are being handled.
Last year, the General Assembly passed a law requiring localities to wait until new buildings are occupied to collect proffer money from developers.
Stafford County said OK-- for new construction. But for existing proffer agreements, the county declared, it would still require proffers to be provided earlier in the process, when building permits are issued, as had been prior practice.
Now, legislators have passed a bill that essentially targets Stafford and the four other counties doing proffers that way. It allows judges to make the counties pay the legal fees if a developer sues them and wins on the issue.
The bill's sponsor says Stafford and other counties are flouting the law, and the bill is intended to pressure them into cooperation.
Stafford supervisors say they're just trying to protect taxpayers by using the old rules for proffers that existed before the law was changed last year.
"It is our position that when you enter into a contract and a contract is negotiated, you honor the contract," said Falmouth Su-pervisor Susan Stimpson.
Cash proffers are payments developers make to localities to help the local governments pay for the infrastructure--such as roads or schools--required by development.
On its face, the bill doesn't directly address the proffer timing question. Submitted by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, the bill simply said that courts "shall" make localities pay court costs and expenses if developers sue them over the proffer issue and lose.
But Obenshain put in the bill to help developers challenge Stafford and the other localities that aren't applying the new rules to all proffers.
"Nobody can afford to sue them," Obenshain said. "They are thumbing their nose at the law."
The law from last year, Obenshain said, was "abundantly clear" and an attorney general's ruling backs it up.
Developers would like to sue, he said, but can't afford to do so if there's no chance of recouping the court costs. That's why he submitted his bill.