Board approves building fee increases

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Revised schedule more accessible

By Chris Van Ormer

Partly for updating, partly for housekeeping, the Department of Planning and Development needed to revise its fee schedule, the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) heard Tuesday.

“The primary reason for developing a new fee schedule today was borne out of the fact that the existing fee schedules are in several documents,” said Vincent Cautero, department director. “The public has a hard time, from time to time, working with our fee schedules, because they can’t find them.”

The board conducted a public hearing to consider the new fees, and later voted unanimously to accept them, even though some of the fees were increased.

Cautero said the schedule updating exercise began in earnest after his department revised the Land Development Code. The goal was to place the fees for all four divisions in the department into one consolidated document. The project also assessed fees affected by the adoption of the Land Development Code. Cautero said it had been more than five years since the fees had been reviewed.

The four divisions include the Building Division, which is self-supporting, Code Compliance, Graphic Resources and Community Planning and Land Development Division, which are funded by property taxes.

Cautero said he asked outside sources what his department could do to entice more business. The Citrus County Builders’ Association recommended the department drop the $25 fee for the pre-application meeting. This fee was recommended for elimination. 

The old fee schedule also charged residents $50 for some property research efforts and letter writing, Cautero said. 

“If someone needs an interpretation, that’s a completely different issue,” Cautero said. 

If no legal opinion was involved and the question could be answered by phone, the fee was recommended for elimination. 

Since the fall of 2011, department representatives sought review of the proposed fees from the 

Governmental Affairs Committee of the Citrus County Builders’ Association, the Governance Committee of the Citrus County Council (CCC), the Realtors’ Association of Citrus County, the Code Review and Appeals Board (CRAB), the Contract and Licensing Advisory Board CLAB) and the Citrus County Agricultural Alliance. The Realtors and the agricultural alliance did not respond with comments, Cautero said. Crab and CLAB sent a few comments. Numerous comments were received from the CCC and the builders.

The Planning and Development Commission also conducted a public hearing and recommended approval of the fee schedule. 

The question the board should consider in reviewing the proposed fee schedule, Cautero said, was: What should you charge to defray the cost to the taxpayers? The proposed fees did not reflect the exact costs of the services.

The CCC suggested making the Land Development Division self-sustaining as an enterprise fund, similar to the Building Division. Although it was possible to do so, Cautero said, the county did not have enough applications at present to allow the division to pay for itself.

“Your application fees would be significantly higher than they are now, which would discourage individuals” in a way that would hinder economic development, Cautero said.

After a review of all departments’ fees, Commission Chairman Joe Meek asked what the changes in fees would mean to the average single-family home. The base fee would go up $10, Cautero replied. 

Commissioner Scott Adams pointed out the larger increases would affect larger developments. Applications requiring comprehensive plan amendments, Cautero said, were “heavy lifting” and fees were higher.

Commissioner Dennis Damato said the department’s records research service for home financing encouraged the use of licensed contractors for improvements and repairs. The work was guaranteed and could satisfy a lender’s conditions.

Commissioner John “JJ” Kenney said he was not a builder, but was sure the public would benefit from the revised fee schedule. Commissioner Rebecca Bays agreed that the department had done a good job.

Adams did not like the fee increases.

“Usually in a downturn, I lower my prices,” Adams said.

Representing the Builders’ Association, Randy Clark of Clark Construction said his group worked closely with the department in developing the fee schedule.

“Do we like to see the fees go up? No. Is it a reality? Yes, it’s a reality,” Clark said.

The builders agreed the old schedule had some parts covered by ad valorem taxes that should have been funded through user fees, according to Clark. “Ad valorem taxpayers should be happy with that. It’s something that we’re satisfied with,” he said.

While supporting the proposed fee schedule, Clark said the increases should be able to decline in the future.

“When things start turning around, and that reserve fund starts to creep up, you need to go back to these fees and start reducing these because it’s not all about just building a big old reserve fund,” Clark said.

Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer can be reached at cvanormer@chronicleonline.com or 352-564-2916.