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Hall County ponders hike in zoning fees
Planning board looks to offset application costs
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When the Hall County Board of Commissioners comes together for the first time in January, it will consider giving the go-ahead to a slew of proposed increases to county development fees.

Planning Director Mark Lane said the proposed fee increases, which raise various zoning fees by about $100 each, are an effort at helping the county planning department to recover the costs of processing zoning applications.

His was one of a number of departments commissioners charged with reviewing fee structures as they voted on a spending plan in June.

All the proposed changes, according to Lane, keep Hall County's development fees in line with the surrounding area.

The proposal comes after an analysis of costs of processing zoning applications, including staff time, postage, legal ads and stipends for members of the county planning board.

Gainesville planning officials are planning to present a similar analysis to the City Council at its planning retreat in late January, though the city's Community Development Director Rusty Ligon has not yet proposed any changes to the city's development fees.

"We annually evaluate our fee structure, compare it to other municipalities to make sure we're competitive and see how we stack up," said Ligon.

Lane said the county's evaluation showed that the county was paying more to process applications than it was collecting in fees.

"The idea is just to get us up with fees that are going to cover the cost of processing these applications," Lane said.

Since commissioners approved the current year's spending plan in June, making considerable cuts to meet an $11.5 million revenue shortfall without raising property taxes, a number of departments have altered their fees. Already, the county Animal Shelter and the solid waste department have raised fees to bring them in line with surrounding jurisdictions or to raise revenues. The county Parks and Leisure Services has also raised fees at community centers.

"The impetus for this resulted from last year's budget process," County Administrator Randy Knighton said. "The board wanted us to take a look at the potential of additional revenue sources and how our fees would be comparable to other jurisdictions.

Knighton, the county's former planning director, started the analysis of development fees before leaving planning to lead the county in August. He compared the county's current fees with those in Athens, Cherokee County, Forsyth County and Gainesville.

Hall County last changed its development fees in 2004.

"These fee changes, we think, will bring our fees in line - and in some cases it's still under - other comparable jurisdictions," Knighton said.

A proposal that will also be on the table when the commission makes its final decision on zoning fees Jan. 12 will be a proposal to change building permit fees.

That proposal has not yet been made public.

Both changes will become effective immediately if approved Jan. 12.

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