Municipalities get reprieve from fee rise County postpones higher charges for development services

Assessments to begin July 1

Cost of site plans, permits, inspections, to be reviewed

March 06, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll's eight municipalities won a brief reprieve yesterday from an enormous increase in development processing fees.

The county will start assessing the fees -- which could be as much as 800 percent higher -- on July 1, six months later than originally scheduled and a year after developers in unincorporated areas of the county began paying increased fees.

All eight mayors had asked the county for a comprehensive review of the fees and 18 months to phase in increases. They got four months and a guarantee that county officials will use the time to trim overhead costs for providing services such as site plans, permits, inspections and engineering.

Under the current fee structure, for example, the owner of a 50-lot development in a county municipality is charged $52 to $58 per lot, generating $2,600 to $2,900 to cover county processing costs. When the new fees are imposed, the same 50-lot development will cost a builder $427 to $543 per lot, an increase likely to be passed on to homebuyers.

"None of us like fee increases, but the bills have to be paid," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell.

The mayors said they were satisfied with the compromise.

"There never was any question that the fees would go up," said New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. "The phase-in gives us time to work together to see what services we are duplicating. The commissioners made a commitment that will be done in three months."

Charles P. "Chip" Boyles, the Taneytown city manager, said, "We just don't feel we know what the relationship is between what the county does and what the city is already doing."

The county plan should eliminate that misunderstanding, said Frank Schaeffer, chief of the Bureau of Development Review. His staff will finish its review by July 1 and "give the mayors the full benefit of the information. The ideal and fairest way would be for each town to pay according to the services it uses," he said.

The eight towns fall into three categories for using county services. Mr. Schaeffer said he could tailor the fees depending on the level of services used. A chart detailing which towns use which services could be the basis for the fees, he said.

"We are looking at all the services and getting a grip on what each town uses," he said.

Mr. Gullo said he welcomes the study, which will give the towns a breakdown of development processing costs.

"The towns will have the latitude to do our own thing or continue with the county," he said. "Controlling and having good building is important to the public interest."

The mayors will meet tomorrow in Westminster to discuss the proposal. Although Westminster, Hampstead and other municipalities are struggling to deal with development that has pushed the county population to nearly 140,000, the mayors are concerned that the fee increase will slow economic growth.

"It could shock the system," said Mr. Gullo. "Discretion and prudence are in the county's interest. This gives the development community a timely warning."

The county, grappling with a $5 million budget shortfall, is trying to reduce costs. "What is critical here is that the county does not have the money to cover these costs," said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown. "It is suicidal to provide services and not get a full return."

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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