Commission votes to increase developer fees

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By AJ Vicens

Developers planning projects in Jefferson County will see their costs rise July 1, but county taxpayers will still pony up most of the cost of processing projects.

Starting July 1, the plan will allow Tim Carl, the county's development and transportation director, to incrementally raise fees over the next five years to the point where his office recovers 25 percent of what it actually costs the county to process development projects.

That leaves Jeffco taxpayers still footing 75 percent of the costs, but it marks a change from the current rate structure, which leaves taxpayers paying about 85 percent of the costs. Without any change, taxpayers would have been subsidizing developers to the tune of $2.2 million annually by 2015, compared to $1.7 million now.

The commissioners approved the plan April 21 but agreed to review the fees in July 2011 to determine whether steeper increases are necessary.

The new fees take effect on Jan. 1, 2010. A few examples: A rezoning application will cost $545, up from $500 (the same increase as a site development plan). A final plat will cost $325 (plus $25 per lot), versus the current $300 (plus $25 per lot).

This was Carl's second attempt to raise fees since early March. His first proposal would have raised fees so developers would pay 32 percent of the costs by 2011. The fees then would have been reset every three years based on the consumer price index. The commissioners shot that idea down, saying fees need to adjust more gradually.

Carl went back to the drawing board and showed up April 21 with several plans. One plan would have had developers pay 75 percent of the costs by 2012. Hartman liked the idea but wanted the fees to rise over five years instead of three due to the struggling economy.

Carl said that without fee increases, he may lose some of his best employees because he can't pay them as well as the counties and cities with more development revenue. Jeffco ranks 13th out of 15 metro area counties in pricing, according to Carl.

"In terms of what other jurisdictions are doing, where are we?" Carl asked the commissioners.

Commissioner Faye Griffin agreed.

"I think we do need some kind of adjustment," she said. She reviewed recent press reports of the fee situation and the public comment that ensued, and got a clear message from Jeffco taxpayers: "They don't think developers should be getting these big bargains," she said. "If we were closer to the middle, I'd feel better."

Commissioner Kevin McCasky disagreed.

"Falling into something that our peers are doing is not important," McCasky said, before sharing his general philosophy on development costs: "If the government requires something, they should bear the brunt of the fees related to that."

He added that uncertainties around the length of the development approval process are a bigger problem. Carl told McCasky that Jeffco and the city of Aurora are the only two metro area jurisdictions that identify timelines in their procedures.

Hartman agreed the process should be efficient but disagreed with McCasky's fee philosophy.

"We create regulations we put developers through for the protection of everyone else who already lives there," Hartman said. "I think it is absolutely fair that people applying to improve property actually cover the costs, or most of the costs, in seeing that happen."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.