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Rising fees hit home


Residential development review fees nearly quadrupled and building permit fees doubled Monday, a move county officials said will raise almost $1.6 million and help ensure that development pays for the services it uses.

Builders said the increases simply raise the price of a home.

"The only folks who pay these bills are the folks trying to get a home," said Richard L. Hull, president of Carroll Land Services Inc. in Westminster.

"The politicians are not helping the consumers, they're hurting them," the land development consultant said.

Mr. Hull estimated the fee increases will add $1,000 to the price of a home.

County officials said the increases mean the offices that review development plans and issue building permits will generate almost enough income to pay for the services they provide.

"Our original intent was to see that for the services we gave we got a fair payment in return," Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said.

"Do we let the taxpayers subsidize [development] or do we make development pay for itself? We opted to make development pay for itself," he said.

The commissioners began looking for ways to raise revenue earlier this year when faced with a projected $4.2 million deficit for fiscal year 1996, which began Saturday. They increased the piggyback tax to 58 percent from 50 percent, which erased most of the deficit.

The fee increases that took effect Monday also apply to permits and development reviews for commercial, farming and multifamily structures.

The increases came on the heels of a $1,700 per home increase in the impact fee, which is levied on new residential development. As of February, the fee for a single family home was increased to $4,487, from $2,700 in most parts of the county.

Last week, the line of people applying to beat the increased cost for building permits snaked into the hall outside the Bureau of Permits and Inspections, Chief Ralph E. Green said. Almost every fee charged by his office doubled Monday.

"We were extremely busy last week," he said.

Employees accepted as many permit applications for new houses last week as they usually do in one month, Mr. Green said. Specific numbers were not available Monday.

Overall, the bureau accepted 208 building permit applications last week. That compares with 476 accepted in the whole month of June last year.

The increase doesn't mean all the new homes will be built at once, Mr. Green said. Because of the long lead time needed, some homes won't be built for 1.5 years, he said.

An application to build a house now costs $50; an application to build a commercial structure costs $100. Building permit fees are figured using a square foot construction cost multiplier, which doubled.

The Bureau of Permits and Inspections will break even as a result of the increased fees, Budget Director Steven D. Powell said. Previously, the office spent $1.86 for every $1 it took in.

The ratio for the Bureau of Development Review has improved, but the fee increase won't bring it to the break-even point, he said.

The office had spent $4.87 for every $1 it took in; now, it will spend $1.54 for every $1 taken in.

The price of a subdivision review for a residential development increased almost four times. The review for a five-lot subdivision used to cost $550; now it costs $2,100.

The price of a site plan review for a commercial or industrial project nearly tripled. The review for a 1-acre project used to cost $735; now it costs $2,100.

Smaller builders will be hurt most by the increases because they do not have as much cash available at the start of a project as larger builders, Mr. Hull said.

He suggested the county charge an additional fee on new homes after they're built. The homeowner then could repay the amount over a 10-year period without interest, which would cost less than adding impact fees and other charges upfront and including them in a mortgage, he said.

Jeff Powers, president of Powers Construction Co. in Westminster, said the fee increases were an easy way for the commissioners to raise revenue. "It's an easy move. It was painless," he said. "Ultimately, it's going to affect the customers. Builders will pass on the cost."

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