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
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
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.