Officials in Livingston are urging the City Council to consider hefty increases to planning fees in an effort to recover administrative and staffing costs.
The city last year signed a $90,000 annual contract with the Visalia-based firm Collins & Schoettler for its planning services. The associate planner for Livingston said the fees the city charges for planning and development projects haven’t been adjusted in 22 years.
“We’re operating at a loss at this point,” Holly Owen said. “There are some projects I’ve spent a number of hours on, and I’m only allowed to charge a certain amount. As a planning firm, we need to make sure the city is recovering their costs.”
Those costs include placing public hearing notices in the newspaper, mailing notices to neighbors, preparing staff reports and meeting with applicants. Owen said she could not estimate how much money the city hasn’t been able to recoup.
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Some of the proposed fees would triple or quadruple from what Livingston charges now and does not factor in fees paid to other agencies, such as public health or fire.
If approved by the City Council, the cost of a residential conditional use permit would go from $400 to $1,505; for commercial-industrial, it would skyrocket from $600 to $2,130. A site plan review for an existing structure would increase from $400 to $2,190 and for a new construction from $600 to $2,535.
Other planning increases will affect sign permits, environmental studies, rezoning and general plan amendments.
A fee analysis was conducted to compare Livingston’s proposed fees to those charged by neighboring cities, said City Manager Jose Ramirez. The last time the city looked at the planning fees was in 1992.
“You have to re-evaluate the cost of doing business and the time that staff is putting into reviewing these particular (planning) applications,” Ramirez said. “We need to recapture the time and materials associated with that particular planning-related project.”
Livingston Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra said he wants to see a detailed analysis of the costs associated with each project, including the amount of staff time. “If you’re going to double the fees, they need to show how they are going to justify their costs,” Samra said.
Samra said he’s against increasing the appeal fee, which would go from $200 to $890. That fee is charged to someone who wants to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision on a project.
“I don’t think we need to charge anymore than that, because you’re basically saying if you don’t have the money, you’re stuck with the decision,” Samra said.
Raising these types of fees can sometimes discourage business growth in the community, according to one expert. “It gives the impression that it’s not a business-friendly community,” said Diane Howerton, regional director of the UC Merced small business development center.
Howerton said the city can overcome the immediate reaction of higher fees if business owners understand how it will benefit them. “If they charge more fees, what could be some additional services and benefits to the businesses?” she said.
The proposed fee increases will be brought before the City Council for action in the beginning of September.