Raising revenue, making enemies Attempt misguided to make development review fees strict user fees.

March 15, 1996

CARROLL'S CURRENT fiscal problems are driving the county commissioners to make enemies they don't need. The county government's continuing quest to find revenue sources recently resulted in a totally unnecessary battle with the county's eight municipalities. It was over the magnitude of the increase in development processing fees that the county charges towns for handling their permit review and inspections.

The commissioners operate from the premise that the various development reviews should generate sufficient sums to be self-supporting. Their logic is that because developers created the need for a 12-person bureau of development review and a 31-person bureau of permits and inspections, they ought to pay those salaries.

The commissioners' tendency to transform fees into user charges reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of these essential government services. Although the development community is the commissioners' favorite political scapegoat of the hour, with the municipalities right behind them, these fee increases don't really punish either. Developers and municipalities don't pay these fees. They are added onto the cost of a new building. Anyone buying or renting new construction is actually saddled with the additional burden.

Long-time residents and new arrivals alike benefit from well-enforced subdivision regulations, good site designs, strong building codes and properly constructed roads, sewers and storm drains. Some developers might love to dispense with these inspections and build whatever they like, wherever they like.

Preoccupied with squeezing money from every possible source outside the property tax, the commissioners are making very injudicious decisions. Their proposal to raise the cost of development reviews as much as 800 percent is a measure of their desperation. If fees need to be increased, they should be done so incrementally. The increases the commissioners favor, even if modified slightly, are arbitrary and capricious. Since benefits of thorough development review flow to the public and developers, it is fair to allocate the costs of operating the review process equitably. Fees should cover a portion of the costs, but so should general revenues collected from taxpayers.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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