By. Neil Williamson
In a previous post, the Free Enterprise Forum identified the monopolistic attributes of the planning approval process.
In our testimony last night, The Free Enterprise Forum highlighted the public benefit derived from the planning process.
The primary beneficiaries are the public and the applicant. Enforcement of codes provides the applicant (and any subsequent ownership) with the security that neighboring parcels will be held to the same high development standards. Such enforcement also provides the public with assurances that their vision as enumerated in the Comprehensive Plan and supported by ordinance will come to fruition.
It is important to recognize that the fees under review have not been changed since 1991 so an adjustment is not out of line. The staff recommendation was for 50% cost recovery (based on their 2007 fee study). The Planning Commission chose 75% cost recovery instead of following staff’s recommendation.
In advocating for 75% cost recovery, Commissioner Linda Porterfield suggested that 75% is a good compromise between 50% and 100%. The Free Enterprise Forum believes the question is better framed on determining the proper allotment between 0 and 100%.
Ms. Porterfield also said, “In this economy, we can’t ask the taxpayers to pick up the cost of something they may or may not benefit from”.
If the taxpayers are not benefiting from the higher standard of regulatory review, including taxpayer initiated planning commission review, who is? Certainly not the applicant, who will be required to attend a multitude of planning commission (and Board of Supervisors) meetings along with her consulting team of engineers, lawyers and planners (all on the clock).
The economic concern is valid but it must be evenly played. Most of the economists that I follow have indicated the housing market must rebound to get our economy moving again. Increasing fees will not stimulate this rebound.
Beyond the fairness and economic issue, significant concerns exist regarding the manner in which the time study was completed. Last night, I mentioned a couple of our concerns:
Timing: the study took place over four weeks of 2007. The Director of Community Development related that this was a very busy time and the staff was experiencing significant employee turnover (50%?).
Self Reporting – the study relied on staff reporting the time spent on a particular task. Parkinson’s law dictates work will always expand to fill the time allotted
Staff Year – The staff work year in the study is 1,750 hours rather than a standard 2,080 hours
The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes the need to bring Albemarle County’s outdated fee structure in line with neighboring localities. We suggest a 50% cost recovery fee schedule (as recommended by staff) and the Albemarle Planning Commission direct staff to identify opportunities for process reductions to achieve another 25% cost containment.