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5:57 PM Thu, Sept. 20th

County considers building fee hike

New homes under construction in the Astoria subdivisions in Prescott.   (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)

New homes under construction in the Astoria subdivisions in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)

Considering buying a new home or maybe sprucing up that dated kitchen? Now might be a good time to pull the trigger if the property is located in unincorporated Yavapai County. A new proposal to increase county building permit fees could boost the cost of construction projects beginning in 2019.

Earlier this month, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors approved a request by staff to open a 60-day public comment period to gather feedback on a new permit fee schedule. Under the plan, the cost of permits would increase from 10 to 80 percent depending on the type of project.

If approved by supervisors, those seeking permits beginning next year would see fees for a 2,400-square-foot, site-built home rise by roughly $780.

Under the new schedule, which covers both commercial and residential construction, permit fees for a new 750-square-foot guest house would increase $315. A new two-car detached garage would cost $90 more while approval of plans to build a 400-square–foot barn would be hiked an additional $46.

David Williams, Yavapai County Development Services director, said the county’s permit fee schedule has not been “substantially” adjusted since 2007.

“The higher fees,” he said, “are basically to recoup some of the expenses of the department so that it’s not a tax burden on the remainder of the county’s residents.”

Supervisors plan to hold public hearings on Oct. 17 and Nov. 7 before voting on the new fee schedule. If approved, the higher fees, which are based on the value of the construction being done, will become effective starting Jan. 1, 2019.

In addition to the two public hearings, Williams said the county’s Board of Building Adjustment and Appeals also will review the proposed changes at a separate hearing to be held Oct. 2.

“The model we’re using to establish these new fees is based on the International Code Council,” Williams said. “This is a pretty consistent model used nationwide. It’s the same model we used in 2007 when (the current fee schedule) was last revisited.”

The increase in permitting fees will hit projects only in unincorporated Yavapai County.

“I don’t think this is going to impact Prescott or Prescott Valley at all,” said Ben Hooper, Prescott Valley Economic Development coordinator. “For the most part, the county doesn’t have much of a say in what’s going on in the cities.”

Williams, who has worked for the county for five years, was planning and land use manager and assistant director before moving into the top job late last year. He oversees a staff of 70.

“When I took over the department, our turnaround time was eight weeks for the first review, which is unacceptable, way too long,” Williams said. “Our current turnaround times are averaging approximately three and a half to four weeks.”

“Our goal,” he added, “is to be at two weeks.”

Williams said the majority of permit applications coming in to the county are for custom projects. “We’re not doing nearly as many standard plans as the cities do,” he said. “Going through custom plans is much more time and labor intensive.”

Sandy Griffis, executive director of the 350-member Yavapai County Contractors Association, has reviewed a preliminary draft of the proposed new fee schedule. “Right now, we’re trying to get an idea about how those in our industry feel about the fee increases,” she said.

Griffis plans to speak for her members at the upcoming public hearings. She called the higher fees “the cost of doing business. They will end up being a pass through to property owners,” she added.

Yavapai County’s current permit fee schedule, Griffis said, is “probably one of the most affordable” of any county in the state.

But Yavapai County’s often prolonged turnaround time in issuing permits irks Griffis and many of the 4,000-plus licensed contractors and sub-contractors currently operating around the county. “They really need to improve the permitting process and speed up issuance times,” she said. “And the question being asked right now is whether increasing fees is going to improve the county’s processes.”

Williams said that if the new schedule is approved, revenue from the higher fees would not be used to add staff members. “Right now I feel like we are fairly appropriately staffed with the exception of plan reviewers. The pace of the industry is such that we have a very hard time finding qualified applicants for those jobs.”

Nevertheless, Williams and his staff continue to look for ways to streamline and speed up the review process.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of public outreach with the industry to try to help minimize mistakes with submittals,” he said. “One of the things we’ve noticed is that we’re seeing the same problems coming in with plan sets, over and over again.”

“We’ve also made several internal improvements to try to reduce turnaround times,” he added. “Right now we run on a paper-based system, meaning we’re still putting pen to paper. In the coming six months, we will be converting over to a fully digital system, which will greatly expedite the turnaround times on plan review.”

Details about the public hearings and proposed fee increases are online at www.yavapai.us/devserv.