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County fees to go up in the new year for cost recovery

Dec 22, 2021 — Fees  for many county services are due to go up in mid-January, leading to sticker shock after years of unchanging prices. Last week, department heads made their various cases to the Board of Supervisors as to how bringing up the cost of fees is the only way to achieve cost recovery, or in some cases, retain staff. 

Environmental health, the sector of public health that covers everything from land use to body art to Boy Scouts facilities, told the board that many of its fees were last adjusted in 2010, when they still didn’t achieve full cost recovery. The covid response was not factored into any of the requests to increase fees. Most of the presentations included highly technical educational material as well as pitches for why they deserved higher fees.

Kirk Ford, with hazardous materials in environmental health, explained that his department is seeking fee increases. He wants a 33% increase for underground tank inspections, from $15 to $20, and a 170% increase in the hourly cost for a hazmat spill response requiring two people,  from $270 to $730.

Back in 2010, the Board decided that full cost recovery would be a major goal in setting the fees for county services. The calculations include the salary and benefits of the person doing the task that’s paid for by the fee, as well as the services and supplies that are needed.

Nash Gonzalez, the head of Planning and Building Services, told the board that his department has increased its productivity by 30% in the last year, partly due to the presence of a contractor in the coast office. The department has also hired another planner, who is training in both the coast and inland offices.

When Supervisor Glenn McGourty asked about what impact it would have if the county waived the fees for solar installations, Gonzalez said that could cost $175,000 a year or result in the loss of two positions. 

Brian Hoy, the supervisor of the Consumer Protections department of Public Health, argued for raising fees to hire more staff and pay them well. He said his department is down two people, but found three good candidates.

Still, Supervisor John Haschak wondered if raising the fees so much, so suddenly, might discourage people from getting the permits and licenses they need to comply with the law. Gonzalez told him incentives were still outstripping disincentives.

 
Audio version of "County fees to go up in the new year for cost recovery"
 

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