On August 13, at the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, the Planning Department presented six proposals for fees for the "review of Improvement Plans, Drainage Reports, Traffic Impact Analysis Reports, and for staff and County consultant participation in development review meetings."  The P&Z Commission approved the fees, and they will go before the Board Of Supervisors soon.

The fees should not be approved.  They are greater than Arizona law allows.

Arizona Revised Statute 11-251.08 lets the county charge fees "for any specific products and services the county provides to the public," but a "fee ... must be attributable to and defray or cover the expense of the product or service," and "shall not exceed the actual cost of the product or service."

Every word in a statute must be given effect, if possible.  Merely obeying the general policy of a statute is not acceptable.  Pursuant to this principle, ARS 11-251.08 requires that the county can charge the public a fee as long as the fee:
  -- is for a specific product or service;
  -- is attributable to a specific product or service, not to the general overhead of maintaining an office;
  -- defrays or covers, but does not exceed, the actual cost of a specific product or service.

The Department's six proposals ignore those requirements.

First proposal:  "The ... Subdivision Coordinator reviews subdivision applications ... to insure that the application is complete, ... sends [it] to reviewing agencies for their comment [and] coordinates the application through the entire ... process....  [T]his entails many hours of research, coordination, analysis, letter and report preparation and record-keeping.  The fee ... is, and will remain, $500 plus $20 per lot ...."  Clearly, this fee is not based on actual cost of the service:  a fee of $2500 for a 100-lot project becomes $5000 for a 225-lot project, though the county does not do twice as much work for the larger project.

Second proposal:  "The ... Transportation Planner ... reviews subdivision-related and development-related TIAs for completeness and accuracy [and] coordinates ... with [ADOT] when developments affect or [may affect] roads or air traffic ....  [This] typically requires 4 hours ... for the first review and 2 hours for ... each revised report.  The proposed ... fee [is] $320 for the first and second review [and] $107 for review of subsequent revisions."  These fees are about $53.50 per hour -- or $100,000 per year.  Does this employee cost the county that much?

The Third, Fourth, and Fifth proposed fees all specify "benefits" and "overhead" as items for which a fee would be imposed:
  -- Third:  "The proposed fee ... $158 per sheet, covers ... salary, benefits and administrative overhead ...."
  -- Fourth:  "The proposed ... $668 for the first and second review ... plus $116 for the review of each subsequent revision .... covers ... salary, benefits, and administrative overhead ...."
  -- Fifth:  "The proposed ... fee for County staff attendance at the required ... meetings [is] $125 per meeting [including] salary, benefits and administrative overhead ...."

The Department's presentation of these fees to the P&Z Commission was crystal clear:  the fees include costs not attributable to any particular service to the public.

Since then, I have made this point to the Department, which has responded that office staff; the costs of copying, mailing, gas, material, equipment, and so on; and "indirect costs ... including ... Human Resources/Payroll, insurance/risk management, utilities, facilities operation and maintenance, finance, treasurer and County Administrative staff," "can be included in the fee as the 'actual full cost' of the application."

The Department's list, as quoted, does not help its case.  The listed items are not specific products or services provided to the public, but are part of the general operation of the county.  A fee for such items will clearly not defray or cover the actual cost of any specific product or service, but will exceed it, and will therefore violate ARS 11-251.08.

Furthermore, if fees are levied whenever a consumer uses any service or product of government, not just specific services but a share of the overhead -- then what are taxes for?  We shouldn't be taxed for government, then have to pay again if we actually use any of its services, or buy any of its products, that we've already paid for with our taxes.  "No taxation without representation" is a valid idea, and so is "no taxation twice for government once!"

Sixth proposal:  "[The Highway & Floodplain Department] currently has a fee for ... in-the-field inspections of subdivision construction [at] $50 per inspection.  The amendments would ... cover the current actual costs [by] increasing this fee to $65 per inspection ... and a maximum of $1,000 for subdivisions with 27 or fewer lots rather than a maximum of $750 for subdivisions with 25 or fewer lots."

A little reflection shows that these fees could easily exceed the cost of the inspection.  There is no set duration of inspections, so a half-hour inspection could be followed by a half-hour drive to another site.  Six such inspections a day would bring in $390.  But if a day's work cost the county $390, a field inspector's salary would be about $100,000 per year -- about $40,000 more than a county supervisor.

For all these reasons, the proposed fees should not be approved.  The Planning Department's lack of money can be handled by means other than charging fees greater than allowed by law.