Helpful Fees or Economic Discouragement?

In a conversation that echoed last year’s Development Impact Fee increase discussions, fees raised their expensive heads again at this week’s Town Council meeting this time in the form of increases to building permit fees. Assistant Town Manager Karen Johnston laid out Town staff’s idea of balancing the budget by using less money from the General Fund and more money from developer’s pockets. The discussion was held in the form of a workshop so that the public had a chance to speak their mind regarding these potential fee hikes, which would, for example, make building permit fees on a $1.7 million home cost approximately $44,000. Even though building permit fees were just increased by 20 percent in May, Town staff was recommending up to another 40 percent increase, for a total of up to 60 percent. Staff was also recommending that the Town charge more per hour for the Community Development Department staff’s time. They suggested raising the price from $98 per hour to $167 per hour.

The question that the discussion boiled down to was whether or not the General Fund should continue to subsidize development. On average, the General Fund has subsidized $773,292 in development-related dollars per year over the last five years. Last year more money came from the General Fund than from fees. Johnston stated that the General Fund should not be covering only one group’s interests, but the public argued that many developmental processes, such as the General Plan process and district planning, were not at the request of the developers, but were expected to benefit the entire community and should be paid for by the General Fund.

The community was perplexed that the Town would even consider raising fees in such an economically slow time. During the public comment portion of the meeting, a store owner from the Village spoke up about the many businesses leaving town because, even though times are tough, their landlords continue to raise the rent. The community felt that the Town would be similar to the landlords if they raised fees, and suggested that the Town reduce fees drastically in order to stimulate Mammoth’s economy instead.

Council left the topic as a discussion for another date, most likely the July 2 meeting since that is when they will be voting on the 2008/09 budget. Town staff will continue their dialogue with the Mammoth Lakes Contractors Association and other interested parties to try and come up with a solution everyone can agree on. If building permit fees are not raised, the Town will need to find $900,000 elsewhere. Legal counsel for the Contractor’s Association, Mark Carney, suggested that the Town take a 10 percent decrease across all of their departments and stop focusing solely on the Community Development Department.

 
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