Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting
Commissioners convene for their first meeting of the year
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Georgia Mountains Center, 301 Main St., Gainesville
At the same time Hall County leaders are hoping to see the economy rebound through increased development, the Hall County Board of Commissioners will consider proposals to make inspections for building and development more expensive.
At Thursday's commission meeting, Hall County commissioners will consider whether to double building review and inspection fees, and increase fees on planning and zoning fees in an effort to reduce budget costs. County officials say the proposals, which were presented to the board at Tuesday's work session meeting, will bring the county's fees closer in line with counties in the region of similar size.
The recommended fee hikes are part of an effort by county departments to become more self-sufficient in terms of costs after the county struggled to overcome an $11.5 million budget shortfall last year.
Commissioners asked departments to look at raising fees for services as a way to put the cost on users and not burden taxpayers.
So far, developers have not raised opposition about the proposed increases and whether they would hinder economic growth.
Tim Evans, the executive director of the Gainesville-Hall Economic Development Council, said he hasn't heard any complaints yet from the business community about potential fee increases, but said he wasn't sure if they were even aware of the proposals.
Evans said the Economic Development Council hasn't taken a stance on the fee increases but added, "Development is kind of slow these days. Any time there are additional costs to development it does need to be looked at."
Officials with Hall County's Building Inspections and Planning departments, which provide required inspections and reviews for development, are proposing fee increases that they say will still be competitive with surrounding counties in the region.
"The primary objective was to make the (Building Inspections) Department self-supporting," said Lamar Carver, the county's inspection services manager. "The people using these services will be paying a fair price instead of it getting passed on to taxpayers."
The county decided to take a look at its fees after budgets were slashed in recent years. Just three or four years ago, there were 22 people on staff at the Building Inspections Department with inspectors specializing in the types of buildings they review.
That was before the economy collapsed and development halted, not just in Hall County but throughout much of the nation. Now, there are only six employees in the department.
Meanwhile, building inspection fees haven't increased in 10 years, Carver said.
His department's proposal would double the fees on most of its inspection services including increasing plan review fees from $50 to $100 on buildings less than 5,000 square feet and raising new commercial permit fees from 12 cents to 24 cents per square foot.
Based on inspection services the department provided in 2011, the new fees could allow the department to raise an additional $160,000 in revenues, Carver said.
The Planning Department's proposal is to increase most of its review fees by about $100 per review.
Interim Planning Director Mark Lane said the increases would essentially cover the inspections without having taxpayers that are not using the services cover the costs.
To come up with the rates, the county looked at other regions to compare. Officials found Hall County was charging less than other counties.
Carver said even contractors who requested inspections from the county said Hall's fees were "excessively low."
At the same time, Hall hasn't exactly been outpacing other regions in growth either.
In the Planning Department's proposal for fee increases, they included studies of fees in the city of Gainesville and Cherokee, Athens-Clarke, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties to demonstrate how the new fees would compare.
As Lane put it, there are no "apples to apples" comparisons on fee rates since each agency has its own way of calculating costs, but Hall's proposal is largely in line with the other communities and in some cases remain lower.