Commissioners approve 25 percent hike in development fees

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By AJ Vicens

A plan to increase Jeffco’s development fees is moving forward after a June 9 hearing that highlighted county leaders' different philosophies on who should be paying development-related costs.

Tim Carl, the county's development and transportation director, has been trying since March to persuade the county commissioners to raise the fees. He has said the county’s development-related fees rank 13th out of 15 metro area counties and cities, and that his department is spending more money on development than it brings in. Without any change, county taxpayers would have been paying $2.2 million annually in costs related to development. Taxpayers already pay $1.7 million.

But starting July 1, fees will increase 9 percent for developers, and then between 2 and 3 percent annually until 2014. Fees will then jump another 6 percent, for a total increase of 25 percent by 2015.

County residents will still bear 75 percent of development-related costs, but it marks a change from the current rate structure, which leaves taxpayers paying about 85 percent.

"County fees have remained relatively low," Carl said at a June 9 public hearing.

"I do believe general government activity is to be funded by general government revenue," Commissioner Kevin McCasky said June 9. McCasky has been the most vocal opponent of raising fees, citing bad economic timing and the fact that because the county requires developers to adhere to guidelines, the county should pay for enforcement. McCasky voted in favor of the fee hike June 9.

Commissioner Kathy Hartman said her yes vote on the proposal doesn't mean she's OK with taxpayers funding development.

"I'm going to vote yes because I think 25 percent is an improvement over 7 percent," Hartman said June 9. "But I don't feel 25 percent is adequate." She said that when the economy improves, the county should further raise fees on development to get more of the burden off taxpayers. "(The taxpayers' 75 percent burden) is inappropriate, but it's better than where we are today."

E-mails sent to the commissioners with comments on the fee increases seem to side with Hartman.

"I favor fees that recover 100 percent of the cost," said Don Parker of Golden. "But if you can get to 25 percent, I guess that is better than 7 percent."

Guy Santo of Evergreen said in an e-mail to the commissioners that he's "very concerned (that) developers' application fees bring in less than the amount required to process them." He said residents of unincorporated Jeffco pay the county to provide services, and if more and more of that money is going to fund the processing of development plans, those residents are getting shortchanged.

Edie Bryan of Lakewood said in an e-mail: "I do not see any reason why the ordinary taxpayer in Jefferson County should subsidize plans for new development. Someone has to pay those costs to cover the staff time to analyze and review those plans. Why not the entity making money off the development?"

Carl and his staff have been trying to get the fee increases approved since March, when the original plan to hike fees was presented to the commissioners. The original plan called for raising fees an average of 25 percent per year through 2011, after which fees would be frozen for three years. In 2014, the fees would then be set according to the consumer price index.

Carl said the county subsidizes the vast majority of costs associated with development. A few examples: The current cost for a preliminary residential plat under the county’s subdivision guidelines is $300. Carl originally wanted to boost that fee to $400 in 2009, $600 in 2010 and $1,200 in 2011. Carl said the county’s actual cost, in terms of staff salary and benefits, is $3,301.

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