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County mulls fee hikes

Wasco County mulled over a schedule of increased fees June 11, some of which will double in amount in the coming fiscal year.

Fees affect the sheriff’s, planning and roads departments. After some discussion at the board of commissioners’ meeting the issue has been continued to the June 25 session.

Among the county’s newly drafted fees is the $5,000 the Planning Department will require to legally hold an outdoor mass gathering of 3,000 people or more, or one lasting 120 hours and over, while a gathering of less than 3,000 attendees will instead be charged $2,500.

It should be noted, Planning Director John Roberts wrote in an introduction to the fee schedule, that “ORS 215.316 limits local governments to charging no more than the actual or average cost of providing the service,” so any fee increases as well as the amounts it has historically cost the departments to carry out before approval.

Also included in the 2014/15 budget increases are licenses for concealed handguns, which will rise to $30 from the original $15. The additional cost, the sheriff’s office explained, is accounted for in ORS 166.291, which states fees that are for concealed handgun licenses are “$15 to the Department of State police for conducting the fingerprint check” and another “$15 to the sheriff for the duplication of a license because of loss or change of address.”

While the sheriff’s department currently charges a $500 deposit for a Civil Foreclosure sale, next year it will rise to $750. Based on the total costs of the last three sales (about $799, $706 and $691), officials said the increase would expedite the process in that it would allow the department “to have enough money on hand to cover all the costs of the sale” instead of charging the $500 and having to wait to receive the rest of the money.

The Public Works department, on the other hand, is looking to introduce a new fee in the form of a non-refundable mass gathering permit fee of $500. The fee, Project Manager Arthur Smith said, is necessary due to the impact mass gatherings have on the travelling public while they are in operation.

“For a long time, the county road department prided itself on not charging taxpayers additional fees, so what we’re proposing is new,” he said. “But due to our persistent lack of funding as well as the tremendous amount of staff time it took to review the plans for What the Festival in the past, we’re just not in a financial position that will allow us to continue donating our time like this in the future.”

That’s why, Smith said, in addition to the new fee for permitted mass gatherings, the department is also instating a non-refundable fee for the processing and inspection of motor vehicle road rallies, amending its original fee request from $500 to $1,000.

“Road rallies,” Smith said, “are clearly defined. The City of Dufur actually established a fee three years ago, so we decided to borrow their language. The fee is specifically for those events when there’s a race, timed events or closing of roads — all of which have a significant impact on the general travelling public.”

The department, he said, will also charge “above and beyond” the fees for any “additional staff time necessary for further administration and inspection of the permitted event.”

The Planning Department is also increasing several more of its fees as well as introducing about 16 to 18 new ones, “most of which center on energy (utility facilities/wind power and outdoor mass gatherings),” according to Roberts’ summary.

New fees include a $1,600 charge for the co-location of a telecommunications tower, while utility facilities necessary for public service will cost $2,500. Likewise, a subject-to-standards guesthouse will now require a $500 payment. Instances of continued non-compliance will also now result in a $50 per month charge.

Appeals from the planning commission to the board of county commissioners will increase from the current $576 to $1,200. While the planning department estimates that full cost recovery for appeals to the board would likely be equal to or exceed $5,000, the amended fee could still serve to “deter frivolous appeals.” Over the last three years, Roberts notes, there have been two appeals to the board.

In a similar vein, the department is also increasing an appeals fee for code compliance issues, raising the current rate of $100 to $500. In the last three years, there has only been one code compliance appeal to the board.

The cost of Full Scenic Area Reviews is set to swell from $1,076 to $1,500. In addition, fees for work commenced in the national scenic area without required land use approval are now variable instead of listed as a set $500.

The higher fees, Roberts wrote, will “enable staff to use discretion to impose a penalty fee for work commenced without land use approval,” with the fee being “one of two amounts depending on whether the violation is in or out of the National Scenic Area.”

These kinds of applications, he continued, “tend to be more complicated and time consuming,” particularly in regards to the national scenic area, which is why the fees for these “will be higher for violations of this type.”

Four planning department fees are set to decrease in the coming fiscal year, including a new or change of address costing $125 instead of $170, scenic area review for a fence or accessory structure measuring less than 500 square feet going from $1,076 down to $1,000, legal parcel determination from $896 to $500, as well as “other” subject to standards items fees decreasing from $676 to $650.

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