Columbia County not charging enough money to cover most building and planning fees, study shows

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - New construction, or modification to existing construction or land, could get a lot more expensive in unincorporated areas of Columbia County. Commissioners are slated to review a revised development fee schedule that will see some costs nearly triple.Columbia County officials report they haven't been collecting enough money in development fees to cover actual costs.

A cost of services study commissioned by the county found that in nearly every category, from conditional use permits to property line adjustments, electrical permits and on-site sewage inspections, the county's fee structure fell far below the actual administrative costs associated with each service.

County commissioners got a preview of study results April 25. During that meeting, Land Development Services staff said a new fee structure would allow the county to recoup most of its costs on permits, inspections and related development services.

"We're getting 90 to 100 percent recovery with the recommended fee," Todd Dugdale, LDS director, told commissioners. Dugdale said the goal was to be able to recover full staffing costs on most building permit services. He later noted that the county hasn't evaluated its cost of services for building and planning for nearly 20 years.

Fee revisions for more than 50 services are being proposed. A public hearing on the new proposed fee schedule is set for 10 a.m. June 20. If the rate schedule is approved, the new fees would take effect July 1.

Some fees could jump significantly

"The Planning area is the most subsidized by the county's general fund, with only 24 percent of its costs being recovered from fees charged," a county news release states. "Proposed increases, however, would bring that to an average of about 53 percent for the most common application fee types."

A comprehensive map amendment, which typically entails a large zoning change, currently costs $2,225, but the county actually incurs costs closer to $19,000. A new fee of $3,100 is being proposed.

Similarly, the county currently charges $177 for a permit to develop in a floodplain. The actual cost to execute a permit is $1,950, the study found. The county is proposing raising the fee to $983.

Land Development Services oversees planning, new construction and permits for a variety of residential and commercial property services. The county department also oversees marijuana business permits.

According to the cost of service study, the county currently charges $1,255 for a marijuana operation permit. It costs the county $3,841 to review the application and determine whether to issue a permit. A new permit fee of $2,055 is proposed.

A type 1 review for a home occupation, a service more likely to be utilized often by small business owners who operate from home, could jump from $353 to $950. A type 2 review will likely increase from $1,255 to $1,800, according to the recommended fee schedule. Applicants can apply for a fee waiver based on their ability to pay.

Development fees generate revenue for "several needs essential to public safety," the county indicates.

"While it is essential that we cover the costs of the most common public needs," Dugdale said, "not all fees will be increased as a result of this study."

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