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Town council sticks with original fee waiver plan

Despite an appeal last month by local builders and developers asking for an extension on 100-percent fee waivers, the Pagosa Springs Town Council decided to stick to the fee-waiver plan as designed, moving to a 50-percent fee waiver in 2010.

Developed last spring and put into effect July 1 of last year, the fee waiver plan was meant to encourage construction in the area — a business that has been the hardest hit in this recession. Embraced by the county and the town, the plan waived 100-percent permitting and impact fees during the last two quarters of 2009, with 50-percent fee waivers offered in 2010.

During a joint meeting between the BoCC and town council last Thursday, Archuleta County Administrator Greg Schulte explained that the county’s budget had been developed based on the 50-percent fee waiver.

“We had an interesting discussion within the county and we found that (extending the 100 percent fee waiver) really hard to do,” he said.

Schulte added, “From a staff standpoint, it’s not a recommendation that I would make.”

Speaking for the Builder’s Association, Bob Hart said, “All I can say is that if you can encourage building, there will be other revenues that can come from that.”

However, Schulte remained firm that, from a budgeting standpoint, extending the 100-percent fee waiver would be difficult to administrate and asked the town to continue with its plan.

Later, during council’s mid-month meeting that same day, council considered the county’s stance.

“One of the things that was mentioned at our work session is that we remain consistent,” said council member Don Volger.

“It looks like at this point it would be prudent to stick with our original plan,” he added.

Council member Stan Holt agreed with Volger, saying, “We entered into this fee reduction unified,” adding, “We’d be playing ourselves against the county as fees go and that wouldn’t be fair.”

A quick poll of other council members — Shari Pierce and Darrell Cotton (Jerry Jackson and Mark Weiler absent) —?by Mayor Ross Aragon found all members agreeing that the town continue with the fee waiver plan and not extend 2009 percentages.

Town Manager David Mitchem pointed out that no action would be required by the board. “Given the positions that have been expressed here,” he said, “there’s no need for a vote and we just stay with the 50 percent.”

While builders and developers had pushed for an extension of 2009 fee waiver levels, it is unknown if that plan has worked. In 2009, the town waived $8,034 in permit fees and $14,844 in impact fees (it collected $3,997 in impact fees for the school and fire districts).

While the county has yet to release its report on the effectiveness of the fee waiver program, it has reported it issued 33 fewer permits last year than were issued in 2008.

Furthermore, it is unknown if any construction in the town or county was proposed based on fee waivers, or if building took place independent of the fee waiver incentives.

While the local economy would certainly benefit from increased construction in the area, it remains unclear if fee waivers are making an impact on the decision to build.

jim@pagosasun.com