County continues discussion of major building fee increases

Revisions possibly up for approval next week 

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

Gunnison County commissioners continue to look at increasing building fees. They are currently discussing a staff proposal that could triple or quadruple fees for land use change applications, building and onsite wastewater treatment systems.

Following a conversation from earlier this month with commissioners in which the county’s planning department proposed a major price hike on building application fees, community development staff came back to commissioners in a second work session this week with some more specific cost increase suggestions and staff increase proposals. Commissioners expressed their support for catching up with the true costs and for helping the planning department staff up to keep pace with increasing demands. The schedule of fees will be considered for formal approval at an upcoming commissioners meeting.

Minor impact land use changes, major impact land use changes and public works fees would go up drastically to cover costs in the latest proposal, which included the current fees, the estimated cost to the county and the proposed new fees. In most cases, the actual cost far exceeds current fees and the proposal finds a compromise to minimize the gap between the two. Yet, in many cases that still triples and in some cases quadruples or more the fees that would be passed on to building applicants.  

Cathie Pagano, assistant county manager for community and economic development, presented examples of current projects and their costs to commissioners on Tuesday, April 26. A current minor impact project showed a current fee for the various associated costs to the county via the attorney’s office, planning commission, environmental health official and several other services totaling $1,365, while the actual costs for the process total $6,916. Based on this example, the new proposed fee would increase to $6,359. Similarly, in a current major land use change project (preliminary phase) the county estimated actual costs at $10,803 to process the application. The current fee for this service is $2,245 and the county staff’s proposed fee is $8,896.  

“We’re trying to really align those costs and those fees,” said Pagano. She reiterated that the county is currently subsidizing those shortfalls from its general fund using taxpayer money and it totals an average of $237,000 per year. 

These fees would also fund more staff. Community development proposes hiring an additional inspector/plans examiner in 2022 with an additional fleet vehicle to accommodate the position and an additional planner as well. There has also been an unfilled planning manager position in the department since August 2021. 

Commissioner Roland Mason expressed concern for the residents of Gunnison County who are trying to build a modest home for themselves and might soon be facing major added costs to the already record-high costs of the construction process. He asked if it would be possible to use a lower cost modifier or scaled approach to address the impacts to working locals and the housing crisis. 

“For the average working person’s potential to get a home [built], building fees impact their decision to be able to do that,” he pointed out. Commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck said the board had reached out to the building community regarding these proposals, and he asked the county’s legal team about a question he was hearing from the community: could the county apply higher building fees to non-residents? The initial answer was very likely not, but commissioners did discuss their ability to at least notify applicants of the coming fee increases. Mason said that associated fee estimates are required in a project estimate for any home larger than 5,000 square feet, but maybe those need to be included in estimates for smaller homes as well. 

Houck also reviewed the commissioners’ ability to subsidize those fees for affordable or deed restricted housing as they see fit.

Commissioners will vote on the proposed changes, as well as whether to use a regional cost modifier to aid in updating home valuations for fee purposes, in an upcoming meeting.   

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