Planning & Zoning fees going up faster than homes

KINGMAN - Homeowners seeking to rezone their properties will be taking an even bigger hit in their pocketbook than before.

The County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a significant increase in zoning and General or area plan amendments during its Sept. 4 meeting. The fees will go into effect in mid-October.

The County Planning & Zoning Commission approved it five-to-three during a meeting last month.

Some of the fees will jump by as much as 100 percent. According to material given to the Board by the P&Z department, the zoning and plan amendment fees have not been increased since 2001.

As part of its budgeting process, the department has a certified public accountant review its fee rates every year, and then determines whether or not to raise the fees. The department is dependent on the fees it collects. It receives no funding from the county's general fund to help run the department. According to state law, the department cannot raise its rates to more than that necessary to run the department.

According to information from the department, the department has seen a significant increase in the demand for rezonings, plan amendments, variances and site plan reviews. The county has seen rezoning and zoning use applications increase from 234 in 2001 to 543 in 2006. Plan amendments have increased from nine in 2001 to more than 50 in 2006. The department has added four employees in order to handle the increase in work and is looking to hire two more employees this year.

John Ford, a candidate for Supervisor District I seat, spoke out against the increase calling it a tax on the public, "to raise fees to the point where people on a fixed income, like I am, cannot afford these fees," he said.

He asked the board how much they planned to raise the fees and if they had looked hard enough for an alternative.

"A good businessman says 'I can't keep increasing my fees. I have to live within my means,'" he said.

He accused Board Chairman Pete Byers and Supervisor Tom Sockwell of going back on their campaign promises not to raise taxes and that the Board was working against the people.

"I would look at this and take it back to Planning and Zoning and try to figure out how we can adjust so I don't have to pay a fee to put in a new toilet. Go back and find out how you can adjust this to where it is not so hard for Planning and Zoning to do business," he said.

P&Z Director Christine Ballard pointed out later in the discussion that the fees were not for construction or building permits but to cover the cost of processing zoning permits and plan amendments.

Byers called some of Ford's statements ludicrous and said that Ford had no clue what the increases were about. Byers said he felt it was more fair for a person to pay a fee when they are having something done, such as a rezoning or an addition to their home, then to force them to pay for it and everyone else's zoning requests through their taxes.

"I disagree with you totally," Byer said. "And I think this is a great place for a bully pulpit so you can run for office."

Ford said he understood that the county was raising fees to keep the department solvent and asked that the Board reveal how much fees would increase.

"This is not a tax, in fact, it's in lieu of a tax," County Manager Ron Walker said. In business you eliminate those lines that don't break even, he said, but in this case, the county has to enforce the law and the department has to be funded. The county can either charge a fee to those that use the county service or charge a tax to all taxpayers.

"I read this," he said referring to the background material for the agenda item, which is available to the public. "I believe I can tell you exactly what the fee increases are. I think it's crystal clear in here. I think this is good business practice in lieu of putting this on every taxpayer in Mohave County."

Ken Lucan, a resident of Valle Vista who is involved in the real estate business, also protested the fee increase.

"While I don't disagree that perhaps we do need an increase in the fees, I think that the timing is just not good," he said.

The economy is suffering, especially on the real estate side, he said. The increase in fees would only add to the cost of projects. He asked if there was a way the Board could delay the increase for a year. Delaying the fees might help the economy to recover.

"There's no good time to raise a fee," Byers said, adding that the real estate market all over the nation was "in the tub," and while the fees might impact the cost of a home, they would be very slight increases.

"But when people stand up and fight their government and try to reduce everything, all they're doing is shifting cost. And costs have been shifted here, there and everywhere," Byers said. On the other hand, when people voted to limit property taxes, no one voted to limit the amount of funds spent on federal and state mandated programs.

"Basically what it comes down to is you have to collect enough money to keep the government functional. I don't think these fees are going impact the everyday person on the street everyday. They'll impact them when they do something," he said. "I don't like it either. I don't want to raise anything."

Byers said he felt the time wasn't quite right, but he did not think that the fees would kill any new development.

Ballard said the county traditionally has had little demand for zoning permits and plan amendments, and only charged about half of the true cost for processing. The recent increase in demand for permits and amendments has raised the cost to the taxpayer, which isn't fair, she said.