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Some Carroll County development review fees planned to increase by up to 170%

Development review fees in five Carroll County agencies are set to increase by as much as 170%.

The Board of County Commissioners voted, 4-1, during the budget planning process to raise certain development review fees to recoup the cost of salaries required to provide these services. At the commissioners’ Thursday meeting, county staff presented examples of what fees will look like moving forward.

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Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, voted against the proposal in April, and spoke against it Thursday.

“I continue to be concerned about raising fees so dramatically, especially as we are in a very challenging fiscal situation in our county,” he said. “We’re putting it on the backs of folks and developers.”

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Agencies of development review, engineering review, stormwater management, floodplain management and forest conservation, which fall under the Department of Land and Resource Management, are planned to experience increased fees.

Tom Devilbiss, the department’s director, previously told the commissioners the fee structure was set in 1995 and had changed little since then. Currently, the fees cover about 37% of about $568,500 in salaries spent to provide development review services in these five agencies, development review coordinator Laura Matyas said Thursday. Staff calculated that fees would need to be multiplied by 2.7 — in other words, a 170% increase — to recoup salary costs by 100%, she said.

A development review fee is set to cover the cost incurred by the county to provide a service and cannot generate revenue for the county, Ted Zaleski, director of management and budget, previously said. The fee for a plan to be reviewed depends on the scope of the project, Matyas said, including the number of lots, acreage, floodplain impact, developed area and more. The county collects review fees for site development plans, major subdivision plans, minor subdivision plans, amended plats and off-conveyance plans.

Matyas provided examples of what the increased fees will look like, based on actual plans that have come to the county for review.

For a site development plan review, a new four-acre development on a vacant lot with two new entrances onto roads currently costs $5,194 in fees, but would cost about $14,023 under the new fee structure. A one-lot minor subdivision currently costs $1,350 in fees, and would cost $3,645 in the future. In a major subdivision plan that proposes to develop 103 lots, fees total about $64,187 now but would go up to about $173,307.

Noting that the board already voted to change the fee structure, Rothstein said he felt the decision to increase fees should not be driven by a desire to recoup salary costs.

Devilbiss clarified that the salary cost presented was based on county staffers’ workload directly related to plan review, and does not include the cost for them to perform other duties. Raising the fees also does not cover other costs associated with providing review services, Devilbiss said. Matyas acknowledged 11 other county agencies involved in review that do not charge fees.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, countered Rothstein’s point.

“What I’m saying is, if we don’t increase these fees, that what we’re doing is the rest of the taxpayers in the county are paying to subsidize the people that are using these services. That’s what’s happening,” Frazier said.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, also disagreed with Rothstein.

“We don’t have anybody sitting in our office building doing anything for free, I don’t think,” Wantz said. “The emphasis on salaries is just that. I mean, let’s call it what it is. Our folks are doing an amazing job ... with a lot less people.” He referred to the decrease in county government employees after the 2008 recession.

Devilbiss’ goal is to have the new fees in place by the end of July. The next step for the commissioners is to vote on whether to adopt the new fee structure in a public meeting, Devilbiss said.

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