Summit County nixes builder’s fee hikes | AspenTimes.com

Summit County nixes builder’s fee hikes

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” A proposed increase in planning fees will have to wait at least until the economy improves, Summit County commissioners decided at Tuesday’s work session.

County staffers had recommended raising the fees for many types of reviews by 40 percent beginning Jan. 1 and another 40 percent the following years.

“We’re dealing with one of the most important parts of our economy,” said Commissioner Tom Long, suggesting at the same time that the county should look at reducing the costs associated with county planning efforts and inspections.

The proposed hikes would have raised the cost of review by a planning commission from $1,530 to $2,815. The cost of certain types of residential zoning changes would go up from as little as $2,265 to $4,167, while fees for some variance requests would increase from $765 to $1,407.

“Just to be very honest, I don’t support any of these until we’ve done a cost-cutting exercise … I’m reluctant to impact something that’s as vital as the building industry in Summit County,” Long said.

Commissioners Bob French and Thomas Davidson agreed with Long, eliciting a few sighs of relief from about a dozen local builders in the audience.

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The push to hike the fees was launched before the national economy crumbled, Davidson said. The idea was to recoup the cost of staff time and expenses for services rendered.

“It’s pretty clear that right now would not be the appropriate time to raise fees,” Davidson said.

“Our thought was to leave this on the table (and) look at a number of things as we go along and progress into uncharted waters of 2009,” said French, leaving the door open to reconsider the fee hike next summer. He said there is still a need to get the fees where they need to be, as long as they are not abusive or intrusive.

“A wait-and-see approach is the right one for now. That doesn’t mean it’s gone,” French said.

When the proposal does come back, it may be in a more modest form. The initial thought was to try and recover 100 percent of the cost.

But Davidson said that, since the community expects the county government to impose high development standards, it might be fair to ask the community to carry some of those costs.

“We might direct staff to come up with lesser percent of recovery,” Davidson said.

Several builders who spoke at the hearing also mentioned the option of cutting costs rather than raising fees.

“I certainly appreciate your sensitivity to our industry,” said Craig Campbell, going on to describe how some of the county’s processes could be streamlined. In some cases, staff from the road and bridge department and the engineering department do overlapping inspections, Campbell said.

Summit County Builders Association president Dave Koons said the fee increases would send Summit County planning costs into the stratosphere as compared with neighboring resort communities.

He said only Pitkin County had hourly fees for staff time higher than Summit’s.

A subdivision review in Summit County could cost as much as $14,000, Koon said. In Routt County, the same process would cost about $5,100; in Grand County, it would run about $3,000; and in Pitkin County, the fees would be about $9,000, Koons added.

“How many guys with a million dollars have already headed elsewhere?” he said. Higher fees would only widen the gap between market-rate and workforce housing, he added.

Koons also said that some local government functions could be outsourced to save taxpayer dollars. In some communities, builders can contract with private companies for inspections related to energy and green-building codes, he said.

Summit County Community and Senior Center fees raised

After rejecting hikes in planning fees, the commissioners did agree to raise some rates at the Summit County Community and Senior Center.

Currently, the county collects about $17,000, mainly by renting the rooms for meetings. Under the proposed changes, that would increase by about $40,000 annually, an amount already included in the county’s 2009 budget.

Fees at the center haven’t been raised since it opened six years ago, said manager Kathryn Grohusky, advocating for a standardization of rates to make administration easier.

The current fee structure leaves some gray areas as to who pays what rate, she said.

“Should we phase this in over a couple of years? Are all the groups that use the facility aware of this?” asked Davidson.

Grohusky replied that she didn’t think anyone would be completely surprised by the fee increase.

“But there are going to be some people who won’t like it,” she said.

Right now, the center charges $10 per hour for meeting rooms. Most other facilities in the county charge between $25 and $75 for similar venues, according to a memo presented at the work session.

Under the proposed increase, rates at the community and senior center would come closer to the charge for those other facilities.

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