Mayors say fee increase is excessive Costs of processing new developments may rise 400 percent

Phase-in preferred

Commissioners maintain changes are necessary

January 18, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

With housing starts down throughout the region, Carroll's mayors say the county should not hit its major industry with a 400 percent boost in development processing fees.

Instead, municipal leaders want the charges gradually increased over the next 18 months.

"A phase-in will give us breathing room and time to change the system and hopefully reduce costs," said New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr.

The mayors, who clashed with the County Commissioners when they proposed the fee increases last month, met Jan. 4 to iron out an alternative. The commissioners have said the county needs the increase to cover costs of reviewing development plans for the town governments.

Under the present fee structure, the developer of a 50-lot subdivision in a county municipality pays about $58 per unit to cover county processing costs. With the increase proposed by the commissioners, the fees, which the county charges for site plans, permits, inspections and other development services, would cost developers -- and, ultimately, homebuyers -- about $543 per lot.

This follows, by less than a year, a $1,700 increase in the county's impact fee, which is $4,487 per unit.

"We all realize the need for an increase," Mr. Gullo said. "At the same time, the county cannot cripple economic development and send an anti-growth message throughout the state."

In a letter delivered to the commissioners Tuesday, the mayors proposed an immediate 25 percent increase. Three additional increases would occur at six-month intervals until July 1997.

County Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he is willing to listen to the proposal, but remains undecided about a phase-in and committed to keeping county services intact.

"In the meantime, the taxpayers would pick up the slack," Mr. Dell said.

Manchester Mayor Elmer C. Lippy, a former County Commissioner, called for a detailed accounting of administrative costs of delaying the increases.

"No matter what, the increase will have an adverse effect," Mr. Lippy said. "We are sending a mixed message."

Mr. Dell agreed.

"The fees only add to the cost of a home and can be devastating to a young family trying to buy their first home," Mr. Dell said.

Taneytown Mayor Robert Flickinger said once the phase-in is complete, nothing will help. He hopes a study of the process will find costs to cut. "It would be nice if one county department looked at everything," Mr. Flickinger said. "Instead, we have to send 19 different plans for approval from different organizations."

The county spent $4.5 million in fiscal 1995 for development review, "the absolute top dollar to run that office," Mr. Dell said. "Maybe we can separate some of those costs."

Several town officials said the increases could halt growth. "If growth slows, business opportunities are hurt," said Chip Boyles, Taneytown town manager.

Higher costs knock some families out of the housing market, said Perry Jones, mayor of Union Bridge, which is planning its first new development in several years.

"You are talking about a $20,000 increase for a 50-lot development," Mr. Jones said. "People are already pushed to the max, paying all they can afford."

Mr. Boyles gave an example of the detrimental effect of the increase. Maryland Health Enterprises, which is planning to build housing for the elderly in Taneytown, said the increase might force changes in the plan.

"We are committed to the project, but part of it rests on growth in the Taneytown area," said James Forsyth, attorney for the company, which has initial plans for a 125-bed nursing facility. "Our next phases would match local population growth."

To help understand the cost breakdown, the mayors have asked for analysis of costs involved in every step of Creekside, a proposed 63-home development in Taneytown.

"Our engineers have done the review of Creekside, so it could be a good comparison for how many hours and what costs are involved," Mr. Boyles said.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates said the county has no desire to "ruin economic development" in the towns. "If they grow, that will help us, too," he said.

He is willing to work with the towns on all the proposals, he said.

"The increases are justified and we have been working in a deficit mode for some time now."

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