By. Neil Williamson
On Tuesday night (1/13), Albemarle County’s Planning Commission is considering increasing some fees up to 15 times the current rate (example $65 to $1,000 for a reinstatement fee). The proposed fees are based on Albemarle County recouping 100% of the costs associated with the various functions directly from applicants. In these fiscally constrained times, such a cost capture strategy may seem advantageous but a touch of analysis proves the cost allocation to be troubled from the start.
Many years ago, a boss told me “Whenever you walk into a meeting, know if you are buyin’ or sellin’.”
If Albemarle County is truly interested in 100% applicant cost recovery, the applicant should be considered the buyer. In a free market system, as the buyer, the applicant would be able to demand greater accountability, attention to deadlines and greater responsiveness. In addition, a free market system would provide a competitive alternative to the permit process. The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes local government is, by design, a monopoly and not subject to the demands of the free market.
In the case of community development application, who is the end user? The obvious answer may seem to be the end user or the applicant. I disagree. The regulatory environment was designed, by local political entities, to serve the public good. So now we have at least two or three (local political entities) as interested stakeholders in the application equation.
What of the Planning Commission itself? Should it not share in the cost burden it imposes by not allowing administrative reviews to handle routine applications? If an application is called up by a Commissioner or neighboring parcel should they pay the cost of drafting the staff report?
Should the Board of Supervisors, who enacted the regulatory maze that results in multiple submissions of the same plan share in the costs for administering the applications?
In every one of the cases covered by these fees, the applicant attempting to develop their property in accordance with Albemarle County’s Comprehensive Plan, should the local government carry some portion of the cost burden?
What will be the increased cost to public projects such as schools and libraries? Will this increased cost burden further delay the multitude of infrastructure improvements that have not yet been fulfilled?
How will this impact the cost of new development in Albemarle County? Will this further impede the already sluggish new construction market? Is the timing of this fee escalation designed to freeze new development?
Albemarle County is currently awaiting the results of a resource utilization study. I anticipate the study may produce changes to the application approval process. Why would Albemarle wish to move forward with the fee increase prior to the results of the efficiency study? If it does choose to move ahead, and the utilization study results in changes that would reduce the fee cost, state laws mandatesAlbemarle County review and revise the fee schedule (including advertising and holding a new set of public hearings). Doesn’t this seem to be cause for pause, at least until the study is complete?
Considering all of the above a 100% applicant cost recovery system seems to be both unfair and untimely. It is unfortunate that the Free Enterprise Forum believes Albemarle County Planning Commission will likely pass this proposal with little if any changes.
It will be left up to the Board of Supervisors to show leadership in deciding how to best allocate costs between the demands of applicants, the process and the public.