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Should people living at county’s outskirts pay more in permit fees?
Contractors question proposed increase in county building safety permit fees

Building service fees provide a mechanism in maintaining property values and helping in the construction of safe and healthy structures, according to Development Services information provided at the Nov. 7, 2018, meeting. (File photo by Richard Haddad/WNI)

Building service fees provide a mechanism in maintaining property values and helping in the construction of safe and healthy structures, according to Development Services information provided at the Nov. 7, 2018, meeting. (File photo by Richard Haddad/WNI)

Too much at one time, that’s what a Verde Valley engineer told the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors at its Nov. 7 board meeting about a proposed hike in building safety permit fees.

Although it has been 11 years since the last fee increase, and the engineer, William Cantor, agreed with such a need, he said the average increase of 50 percent was too much for a single occurrence.

The proposed fee increase is to help recover the cost of providing services such as plan reviews, inspections and permitting, said Jeremy Dye, assistant director of Development Services. The last adjustment to the fee schedule was in 2007.

A NECCESARY INCREASE

Over the past 11 years, operating costs in the Yavapai County Development Services Department have gone up because of increases in staff, equipment, and higher levels of service to the public, said Dave Williams, Development Services director.

The actual cost of providing services is not reflected by the fees charged, he said. In fact, the fees recover about 47 percent of the operating costs, which continue to increase. State law prohibits counties from charging more than the actual cost of the service.

Building service fees provide a mechanism in maintaining property values and helping in the construction of safe and healthy structures, according to Development Services information provided at the Nov. 7 meeting.

HOW INCREASE IS FIGURED

As part of figuring the amount of fee increase, the department looked at two locations: nearby Williamson Valley and the more distant Juniper Woods and averaged the two. About 90 percent of permits occur within 15 miles of the county Development Services building, Williams said. Hourly wage and mileage for those living farther out typically produce a higher expense to the county, although it charges the same fee.

Board Vice Chair Randy Garrison said he didn’t believe people living farther out should have to pay more in fees. Supervisor Jack Smith agreed, saying he didn’t want the burden of additional costs, such as in fee-based zoning standards, to fall on those individuals.

For a single-family home construction, the county conducts an average of 20 field inspections, including an average five failed inspections. An example of what the increase might look like for the construction of a 1,200-square-foot home, current building inspection and plan check fees total $1,422. Proposed fees total $2,027, a 42 percent increase.

A 5,000-square-foot home, with current fees of $3,938, would see a 53.5 percent jump to $6,049.

Homeowners constructing a 550-square-foot detached garage would face a 69 percent increase in fees — from $391 to $663.

IMPACT ON BUILDERS

Several people at the meeting asked supervisors to postpone their decision on the increase. Chris Powell of Yarnell said a demand for more money from citizens does not serve them and would create a burden on building trades.

Kantor, from Camp Verde, who said he agreed with an increase, suggested the county implement it incrementally over three years. Chino Valley general contractor Chuck Merritt also urged the supervisors to delay the increase in order to gather more detailed information.

Sandy Griffis, executive director of the Yavapai County Contractors Association, agrees with the county needing to recover some of its expenses. The matrix used for the proposed increase is unclear, however, and she would like to see where the numbers come from.

Sonny Stazenski owns a construction business in Chino Valley. He said growth in construction slows down every three to five years, except for what happened in 2007, which “knocked everybody down.”

“At the end of the day, we’re just trying to make a living,” he said, adding that he would like to see the department break down its costs to see exactly where it is losing money.

In the past, Stazenski said, it took 14 weeks for a plan review; today it takes three-and-a-half to four weeks. He pointed out some delays were based on “little things not in the code book.”

“They (the county) are running a business, I’m running a business. Let’s look at the whole picture,” he said.

In a written comment, David Franz noted that construction materials and service costs have increased in the industry, and he wanted the county to look at increasing its operational efficiency rather than increase fees.

NEXT STEP

In 2014, the board looked at raising the fees, but decided that would have a negative impact on the building industry and decided not to, Supervisor Craig Brown said. Garrison acknowledged the permit times had been too long, and that the county has spent a tremendous amount of money this past year to lessen permit times.

“At the end of the day, we need to balance taxes that pay for services we provide,” Smith said. “Trust me, guys. We’re on your side.”

To date, the county has held eight community meetings, met with the YCCA in August, and advertised the proposed fee schedules for 60 days on its website. The Nov. 7 public courtesy hearing on the matter was continued to Nov. 20 in Cottonwood.

The final hearing will take place at the 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, Board of Supervisors meeting at the county administrative building, 1015 Fair St., Prescott, for possible adoption. If so approved, Development Services staff recommends the fee increase go into effect Jan. 14.

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