By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer
Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors only have two main options when it comes to revenue to fill the budget: personal property or real estate taxes.
Wednesday night (3/7) the Board looked at additional options for revenue.
“We are a two trick county: real estate and personal property [taxes],” said Steve Nichols, county administrator.
Staff recommended the board further research and look to implement business, professional and occupational licenses (BPOL) fee and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) revenue recovery. Further more, staff recommended examining a meals tax.
BPOL fee would be a flat charge yearly to every business in the county. A BPOL tax would be based on a percentage of business revenue but was not thought to be the best to implement for the county.
“Is [BPOL fee] worth the pain you go through?” said Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District).
Ullenbruch said it would cause a lot of uproar with businesses and would only generate minimal amount of revenue.
Nelson County County charges $30 a business per year. It generates $32,610 per year. Some counties chose to implement both a fee and a tax but Fluvanna looks to explore the fee only.
“it is perfectly understandable a business doesn’t want to pay a tax,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District).
The EMS recovery option would potentially generate around $500,000 a year. Louisa, who takes more than twice as many calls as Fluvanna, brings in $966,710 in FY13.
The revenue recovery would bring in more than the county currently pays to operate emergency services. It could help pay for things like equipment or part-time staffing.
The plan would be ‘compassionate billing’ which would institute a way for those who showed an inability to pay, the possibility to have the charge removed.
Of the nine counties in the surrounding area, all have revenue recovery except Cumberland.
Staff also recommended supervisors finalize a proffer guidance document and review why some current fees the county collects are significantly lower than its peers.
One idea with additional revenue is to help supplant the current personal property tax. Fluvanna charges $4.15 per $100 assessed. Louisa charges $1.90.
Every nickel of Fluvanna’s personal property tax is $86,000 of revenue.
Measures like fees could be implemented for FY16. A meals tax would require a referendum and counties have had trouble passing such a measure. Currently Greene, Louisa, Madison, Nelson and Orange have a 4 percent meals tax.
Staff is expected to give more information on the items the board have agreed to further examine later this year.
The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.
Photo Credit: Fluvanna County
By. Neil Williamson, President
Somewhere there should be a rule that members of boards and commissions should limit their remarks to the action before them. Unfortunately, such a rule must not exist, or is not being enforced, at the Albemarle County Planning Commission. The community is the poorer for it.
In last night’s (10/19) Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting, there were three applications for waiver of critical slopes ordinance. The criteria for granting these waivers are clearly delineated in the code. The Free Enterprise Forum has been pushing for these waivers to be granted administratively. While staff is “working” on this change, members of the Planning Commission consider these applications “open mike night” to discuss elements of plans that are not under review.
Last night, when considering the critical slopes waiver for a proposed fire station on Pantops, we learned that one planning commissioner believed this would be the proper time to opine that he thought the station should be two stories with a community room for meetings. Then a lengthy discussion ensued regarding the lack of public meeting room space in the Pantops Master Planning area. When the commissioner questioned the Albemarle County Fire Chief if there was any reason he couldn’t build a second story the Chief replied “budget”.
Another commissioner expressed her dissent that the building was designed to only house one engine and hoped that an ambulance (if not another engine as well) would be added soon. The Fire Chief responded that a needs analysis had been completed and the station was designed based on that analysis.
Neither of these lengthy discussions were germane to the critical slopes waiver at hand.
The motion, as written up in the staff report was a clear A or B choice:
A. Should the Planning Commission choose to approve the critical slopes disturbance waiver:
I move to approve SDP 2010-67 Pantops Fire Station Critical Slopes Disturbance Waiver Request upon finding that the request satisfies the requirements of section 188.8.131.52 as outlined in staff’s report.
B. Should the Planning Commission choose to deny the critical slopes disturbance waiver:
I move to deny SDP 2010-67 Pantops Fire Station Critical Slopes Disturbance Waiver Request. If the commission chooses to deny the critical slopes disturbance waiver request, it shall identify/establish requirements/reasons for denial.
In the end, fire station waiver passed unanimously [as did all of the critical slopes waivers].
The discussion of these three items was over an hour of the meeting.
The Free Enterprise Forum found the irrelevant discussion to be a waste of time but in addition it was a waste of limited resources. Staff members attending the meeting included:
- Assistant County Attorney
- Director of Planning
- Director of Zoning
- Chief of Current Development
- Chief of Zoning
- Chief of Planning
- Recording Secretary
- Principal Planner 1
- Principal Planner 2
- Fire Chief (ACFD)
- Project Administrator (ACFD)
Considering the continued drumbeat regarding the lack of Albemarle County staffing resources, is it too much to ask the Planning Commission to stop opining on firehouse design and get on with the issue at hand?
The Free Enterprise Forum believes the entire commission should be held accountable for this waste of resources.
Until such time that critical slopes waivers can be administratively approved, the Free Enterprise Forum calls on the members of the Albemarle Planning Commission to police themselves and refrain from redesigning projects when a critical slopes waiver is the issue at hand.
Neil Williamson, President
By. Neil Williamson, President
Albemarle County has scheduled their zoning fee increase public hearing to allow the current lame duck Board of Supervisors vote on the proposal on December 2, 2009. The Board has already seen the fee increases as they included the numbers in their resolution of intent several months ago.
Despite our research and our direct testimony at the Planning Commission, the Free Enterprise Forum still has fundamental issues with both the timing and the concept of fixing the process by fixing the fees (with an automatic escalator). We fear this puts too much emphasis on the fee increase side of the equation and provides no mechanism nor incentive for achieving departmental efficiency. In addition, we have called for the implementation of these fees to be postponed until at least January 1, 2011.
Recent media accounts support our position.
Meanwhile, raising revenue addresses just one side of the equation. The other must be considered: Reducing county costs so that there is less reason to “need” fee hikes.
This can be done in two ways.
Some critics claim that the planning and development department is overstaffed, especially now that building permit requests have fallen due to the economic downturn. We know that the county has reduced some staffing levels through attrition and reassignment. Although we are not prepared at this time to say uncategorically that this department or any other needs to be trimmed still further, we do think the county should further consider this cost-cutting technique.
The county might be able to cut staff if it made its system less cumbersome. Rezoning and building procedures are so protracted and unpredictable that they add unnecessary burdens to the approval process. Of course, procedures should continue to safeguard the environment and the taxpayer, but streamlining the system would benefit everyone in time and money saved.
In the first half of 2002, there were 855 single-family home permits issued, with a staff of 15 employees. In the first half of ’08, there were 266 SFH permits issued, still with a staff of 15. In the first half of ’09 there were 155 SFH permits issued, still again with 15 employees on payroll. These numbers are taken from reports from the county.
Most interestingly, the City of Richmond raised fees in 2007 in order to produce an improvement in service. A recent City audit (53 page PDF) found the cost justification faulty and questioned any resulting improvement in service. Will Jones of The Richmond Times Dispatch has the story.
A 15.5 percent increase in Richmond’s construction permit fees may have been unnecessary, and it has failed to produce the promised improvements in inspection services, according to the city auditor. . .
The report is recommending that administration officials review the city’s costs to issue permits and conduct inspections, and to adjust its fees accordingly.
Albemarle County’s proposed zoning fees have an automatic escalator based on merit pay increases. Understandably, labor is the largest component of the cost. What if the fees also included a quadrennial outside audit of the fee schedule?
Such an audit would clearly fall under the best practices Albemarle has touted in the past. An audit, if done correctly, might expose the huge waste that is mandated not by code but by over zealous Albemarle County planning procedures.
The proposed fees (as advertised in this morning’s paper) include:
|Selected Proposed Zoning Fee Increases|
|Zoning Text Amendment||$ 840||$ 1,000||19%|
|Zoning Map Amendments|
|Planned Development < 50 acres||$ 1,200||$ 2,500||108%|
|Planned Development > 50 acres||$ 1,570||$ 3,500||123%|
|All other amendments < 50 acres||$ 1,020||$ 1,250||23%|
|All other amendments > 50 acres||$ 1,570||$ 1,750||11%|
|Deferral of scheduled public hearing at applicant request||$ 35||$ 180||414%|
|Special Use Permits|
|Rural Area Division||$ 1,240||$ 2,000||61%|
|Home Occupation- Class A||$ 13||$ 25||92%|
|Home Occupation- Class B||$ 440||$ 500||14%|
|Each additional resubmittal after 1st resubmittal||n/a||$ 1,000|
|Final Site Plan – Administrative Review||$ 410||$ 1,200||193%|
|Final Site Plan Planning Commission Review||$ 1,130||$ 1,800||59%|
|Matters considered by Board of Zoning Appeals|
|Variances||$ 120||$ 500||317%|
|Appeals||$ 120||$ 240||100%|
|Matters considered by Architectural Review Board|
|Site Plan||n/a||$ 1,000||n/a|
|Building Permit per ARB review||n/a||$ 590||n/a|
|Matters Considered by Zoning Administrator or others|
|Official determination regarding compliance||$ 75||$ 185||147%|
|Official determination regarding development rights||$ 40||$ 100||150%|
|All other official determinations||$ 75||$ 100||33%|
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Members of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors,
This Wednesday (4/8) you will be holding a work session to discuss the proposed increase in Albemarle County’s subdivision fees. The Free Enterprise Forum has three areas of concern with the current proposal: the study, the fairness of cost burden share, and the cost of complexity. Despite our general agreement that applicants should share in the cost burden of applications, we are unable to fully support staff’s recommendation regarding the proposed fees.
The Free Enterprise Forum has significant concerns regarding the timing and methodology of the consultant time study of Albemarle County’s Community Development Department.
ü Timing – The study took place in 2007 at a time of significant rezoning activity and a high level (50%?) of employee turnover.
ü Self Reporting – the study relied on staff reporting regarding the time spent on a particular task. Parkinson’s law dictates work will always expand to fill the time allotted.
ü Staff year – The staff work year in the study is 1,750 hours rather than a standard 2,080 hours.
The Applicant’s Cost Burden
In addition to our concerns regarding the study, The Free Enterprise Forum believes the Community Development Department activities benefit a multiplicity of population cohorts. If the goal of the new fees is to place the cost burden on the beneficiaries and examination of all those involved in the process is instructive.
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.
In recent years, the Albemarle County Planning Commission has significantly expanded the level of detail and amount of information required for any given approval. Each time an administrative approval is called up by the commission, the costs for Albemarle County (staff reporting, presentation time) and the applicant (consultant fees, attendance at public meetings, etc.) increase exponentially. Who is being served by this process? If the Planning Commission’s hands are tied by law regarding the approval if it meets the prescribed criteria, are the citizens being served by taking this to the commission?
Two different engineering firms have indicated to the Free Enterprise Forum that the proposed increase in fees for County review may exceed the professional fees these firms would charge for surveying and preparation of a subdivision plat. This does not seem fair or right.
Cost of Complexity
Recently, a rural church wanted to build a shed for their lawn mower and other yard equipment. By the time they received their building permit, the church had spent over six months working with Community Development. Mark Graham estimated over $6,000 of county costs were sunk into that application. This too does not seem right or fair.
The cumulative impact of Albemarle County’s regulatory environment can not be ignored in this discussion. In this time of reduced application volume, the Board of Supervisors could direct staff to dig deeper into the Development Review Task Force recommendations and reduce the onerous regulatory burden on County staff and applicants.
The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes the need to increase subdivision fees to more effectively capture a portion of application approval costs. We believe significant inefficiencies exist in the current system. We call on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to reject the results of the flawed time work study. Further, we encourage Community Development to examine the current regulations and propose streamlining of the process.
Finally, considering the current economic environment and the questions that have been raised by the Free Enterprise Forum and others, we call on the Board of Supervisors to delay this vote (or at least implementation) for at least 12 months.
Thank you for your service to our community,
Free Enterprise Forum
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.
In last night’s (10/7/08) Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting, Community Development Director Mark Graham presented a proposal to increase fees for subdividing land. Brandon Shulleeta of the Daily Progress has the story:
The Albemarle Planning Commission heard a recommendation Tuesday from county staff to more than triple fees for developers under a subdivision ordinance. But some commissioners said the county should consider increasing the fees more than six-fold.
The rationale for such an increase hinges on the Planning Commission’s desire to recoup all the administrative expenses associated with processing the application from the applicant. In their view, the subdivision of land benefits only the applicant thus the applicant should bear the entirety of the cost of processing the application.
The Free Enterprise Forum philosophically disagrees with this position.
When ordinances and policies are crafted regarding the subdivision of land, the majority of the concerns are for the benefit of neighboring parcels and the community at large. With this as a starting point, the level of complexity of the subdivision ordinance has increased dramatically over the last fifteen years. The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively regarding the Cost of Complexity and the need for regular regulatory review/reform.
To clarify, the subdivision ordinance is used to exercise a parcel’s “By Right” divisions under the existing zoning. There are very real costs to administering the subdivision ordinance but it is much more than just the landowner that is benefiting from the process.
As a part of this comprehensive fee review, earlier this year the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors enacted new building inspection fees. The Supervisors discussed that the inspections served far more than just the applicant but also protected future owners and visitors to commercial space. The point was that the community shares in the benefit thus the community should share in the cost of administering the inspections.
The Free Enterprise Forum agrees with The Board of Supervisors’ (and staff’s) assesment and suggests the Planning Commission reconsider their proposed cost allocation to more appropriately share the cost between the applicant and the community.
In this Monday’s meeting, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors indicated general approval of a new fee for residential development in the rural areas. This new fee is designed to cover the cost of reviewing the newly required erosion and drainage engineering plans.
The new fee, proposed to be around $230, is 50% higher than neighboring localities but is in line with fees Northern Virginia localities are charging according to Albemarle County’s Director of Community Development Mark Graham. Interestingly, this new fee will help Mr. Graham “unfreeze” a position in his zoning department because the fee will generate enough revenue to cover the cost of this individual.
In the discussion, Supervisor David Slutzky opined the new costs would not significantly increase the cost of housing in the rural areas and that is not where affordable housing is being built anyway. He further indicated that if the fee did anything to discourage development in the rural areas it was a good thing.
At a break in the meeting, one member of the Board of Supervisors came up and asked me what I thought of the new fee, ‘was it too much?’ I informed this supervisor that the cost for a full engineering document created for each new rural residence was where the impacts of the new regulations would be felt in the Thousands not hundreds of dollars. The additional $230 is just one more burden placed on the rural landowner seeking to exercise his or her rights.
The new fee schedule will be released in the coming weeks. The fees will be significantly higher than other localities because of Albemarle County’s the high level of regulation.
In the end the increased fees and onerous regulation make it more difficult to develop and conduct business in Albemarle County. Maybe that’s the goal after all.