More than 20 people are vying for seats on a city panel that will look at the fees developers pay when they build in Modesto.
The surge of applicants is a sign of how important the issue remains less than a decade after the city failed to collect enough fees to pay for necessary public improvements in the Village I subdivisions of northeast Modesto.
Some say development fees are too high and push businesses to cities with cheaper charges. Others say lowering the fees could could hurt the city, leaving it unable to pay for needed improvements.
Developers pay the fees when they build new houses or businesses. The fees are meant to cover the costs of parks, sewers and other improvements needed as a result of development. For example, a 2,491-square-foot Jack in the Box restaurant would pay $116,614 in cumulative fees to cover its impact on city and school services.
The decision on whether to lower development fees is one of the most important the city will face this year. The citizen panel, known as the Comprehensive Fee Task Force, will play a key role.
Its members will review every fee Modesto charges and study how they're calculated. They will compare Modesto's fees with other cities. Then they will make recommendations to the City Council on whether fees should be changed.
Representatives from the construction industry, the Building Industry Association and the city's largest industrial employers will sit on the 13-member panel. The city reserved three slots for residents and one for a commercial real estate broker. Those are the seats that attracted 23 applicants, an unusually high turnout.
"We would love to have that kind of participation in all of our task forces and committees," said Brent Sinclair, director of community and economic development.
Both sides of the coin
Applicants include a certified public accountant and a retired Turlock police lieutenant. One is insurance broker J. David Wright Jr., who wrote on his application that he wants to serve on the panel because he wants fees that are "fair to our business community."
Wright said, "I have built a commercial building in Mo- desto and do have friends that are builders and have seen what they are going through in respect to building cost and fees."
Another is Emerson Drake, a community activist who's an outspoken opponent of growth. He wrote that he wants to "make sure another Village 1 debacle doesn't occur."
Earlier this decade, Modesto failed to collect enough development fees to pay for streets, storm drains and parks in Village I. The shortfall, estimated at $43 million at the time, was widely blamed on previous city councils setting development fees too low and then not raising them.
The City Council's Economic Development Committee will interview the applicants Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. and Jan. 21 at 5 p.m. Interviews are open to the public. The committee meets at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Room 2005.