County Plan­ning pro­poses fee hikes

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - SCAR­LET SIMS

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.

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