County Planning proposes fee hikes
FAYETTEVILLE — Justices of the peace said they are considering charging builders and contractors higher fees to raise revenue.
Some justices of the peace said they support raising permit fees associated with building homes, subdivisions and large-scale developments. The increase will boost revenue for the Planning Department, they said.
The county’s $66 million budget has a $5 million gap between spending and revenue. Justices of the peace have started talking about major cuts to services, selling property or other changes to narrow the gap and build up the county’s $6.5 million in unrestricted reserves.
At least one justice of the peace is skeptical.
“I know the county needs money. [But] I hate, at the same time, to raise taxes on anyone if we don’t have to,” said Justice of the
Peace Robert Dennis, a Republican who represents Farmington.
The fees directly affect contractors and property owners who want to split a lot, get a variance or request a conditional use permit, records show.
Higher fees would put the county more in line with Fayetteville and Benton County, said Jim Kimbrough, planning director, during a committee meeting Monday.
“We took a look around and saw we were a little bit behind [on fee costs],” Kimbrough said.
County Attorney Brian Lester did not provide a comment from County Judge Joseph Wood.
Benton County’s fees often are hundreds of dollars more than Washington County, according to documents from both counties.
For example, Washington County charges $200 for a final plat on a subdivision in a city’s planning area. Benton County charges $750 for the same work.
A large-scale development preliminary plat costs $300 in Washington County and $750 in Benton County.
Had Washington County increased the fees at the beginning of this year, the department’s revenue would be $21,225 instead of $10,465, according to documents provided by Kimbrough.
Raising the rates also will align Washington County with what other governments charge, said Daniel Balls, a Democrat who represents southern Fayetteville.
“I don’t see a bad part to it,” Balls said about raising the fees.
Dennis said he was still considering whether it’s the right thing to do. Just because Benton County has higher fees doesn’t mean Washington County should, too, he said.
“I hate to make people pay more and more and more and more and — more,” Dennis said.
Dennis said he has contacted people in the construction industry to see what the impact would be and hopes to hear more from the Planning Department.
Several contractors in the area did not return phone messages on Wednesday and Thursday.
The fee increase won’t stop people from building in Washington County and is unlikely to make much difference to people who want to build, said Mervin Jebaraj, interim director at the Center for Business and Economic Research in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
“Buildings tend to go where demand is,” Jebaraj said.
Demand for construction is growing in Washington and Benton counties, county officials said. The higher fees in Benton County have not slowed growth or permit requests, said Kevin M. Gambrill, planning director. People will continue to build in Washington County, too, Balls said.
Still, Dennis said contractors or home builders would have to absorb the cost and the issue should not solely be about revenue for the county. The increase should be only to cover costs for the services, he said.
“It should be justified based on costs, not popularity,” Dennis said.