The county has used improper procedures to set illegal fees
    (originally posted as part of the longer page
         http://littlebigdog.net/ccipra.htm )

Upshot of the situation set out below:  The supervisors passed the illegal fees, and when an email went to each supervisor pointing out that state law requires 15 days' notice, but the county only gave 4 days' notice, not one supervisor answered.

The agenda for the regular BOS meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday, January 13, was posted on Friday, January 9, sometime between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., at
        http://www.co.cochise.az.us/ccwebsite/BOSAgenda.asp?MeetingID=1002
 
    In the Public Hearing items, Item 14 is "Adopt Ordinance 037-09, (Docket R-08-03) amending 'Cochise County Planning and Zoning Fee Schedule' and the Cochise County Highway and Floodplain 'Use of Public Rights-of-way Fee Schedule' found as Attachment A of Ordinance 035-06."  This is the attempt to use improper procedures to set illegal fees.  
Here's the writeup about this presented to the Supervisors at the 9 a.m. meeting on Tuesday, January 9:

I. Introduction

The county Planning Department wants to impose some new fees on the public. The procedure used to advance the fees has been "unusual," and the fees are illegal. On January 13, the Board Of Supervisors is scheduled to have a public hearing on the latest version of the proposed fees.

Section II, below, discusses procedural problems; Section III discusses the illegality of the fees; Section IV is a conclusion; and Section V contains the "Notes" mentioned in the discussion.


II. Improper Procedure

On August 13, 2008, the Planning & Zoning Commission approved some new and changed fees that the Planning Department, and the Highway & Floodplain Department, want to charge the public (Note 1 has internet links to the official agenda and minutes). The proposed fees were presented by Planning Department employee Susana Montana, who has made every presentation in this matter for the Department.

The agenda for August 13 said that if approved, the matter would have a public hearing at the Board Of Supervisors on September 9. Instead, a Board work session was set for Tuesday, October 7. It is not clear how the agenda was changed, since the Board did not do so at any meeting.

State law requires the Commission to transmit all of its actions to the Board (Note 2 has the statutory language). The Department has the clerical task of transmitting the Commission's actions to the Board. On October 2, the Friday before the October 7 work session, Department employee Montana circulated an email stating that she would bring paper copies of the proposed fees to the work session (Note 3 has the email's addressees).

Early Monday, October 6, the day before the work session, Deputy County Administrator James Vlahovich sent Montana an email asking "Based upon all of the fee schedule changes proposed (and some recently added since the last Commission meeting as I recall), do we need to go back through the Commission?" (see Note 4).

41 minutes later, Montana emailed an answer saying "The current version of the fee schedules differ from what the Commission recommended on August 13th" in seven ways (though actually, there appear to be many more than seven differences; see Note 5).

Just five minutes after that, Vlahovich (to whom Montana does not report) requested Montana to "inform the Board that we will need to go back through the Commission on the fee schedule changes since some are new fees and some are greater than what the Commission approved." Vlahovich's order implicitly approved the Department's not transmitting what the Commission passed.

At the Board work session on October 7, Montana obeyed Vlahovich's order and told the Board that "we reviewed this twice with the Planning and Zoning Commission ... we took it back to them, we recalculated some hours that we spent on projects. And since that time we've recalculated it again, so we will be going back to the Planning and Zoning Commission tweaking [?] dollar amounts a little bit" (transcribed from a recording of the meeting; some words difficult to hear).

Montana's oral statement included just slightly more information than the written packet she provided to the Board. Immediately after the work session, Montana gave me a copy of the packet. It noted many changes to existing fees, without indicating which changes were, or were not, what the Commission approved in August.

During the meeting, Montana acknowledged that the Department had changed what the Commission approved. Montana stated "we went back and reviewed the numbers and did some recalculations as to how many hours for each of the skill levels ... and since that time, since August, we decided that rather than having separate fees for the subdivision committee meeting, which is required, we would put that into the initial tentative plat and final plat fee so it's not separate. So that's one change we're taking back to the commission" (transcribed from a recording of the meeting).

Though Montana acknowledged that the changes she presented were not what the Commission approved, she did not tell the Board which had been approved by the Commission, and which had been made later by the Department. The Board did not see what the Commission voted to approve; the Board saw a Department rewrite of what the Commission approved.

On December 10, two months after the October work session, the Department returned to the Commission with more modifications to the fee proposals.

Before Montana's December 10 presentation to the Commission, I asked her if she had, at the October work session, presented just what the Commission had approved in August. Montana said she could not answer. After Montana's presentation, during public comments, I stated that it was unacceptable for the Department not to be able to say that it accurately transmitted an item approved by the Commission. After public comments were closed, Commission chairman Corey asked Montana "The Board did see the documents we sent forward, our recommendations, they did see those, what we recommended, then you went through and changed some fees?" Montana answered "Yes" (transcribed from a recording of the meeting), despite her failure to answer when I asked.

Montana's "Yes" answer was surprising, since during her presentation to the Board (back in October) she acknowledged that the changes she was presenting were not what the Commission approved. The Board did not see what the Commission voted to approve; the Board saw only a Departmental rewrite. In light of this, it is not clear why Montana answered "Yes" to Corey's question.

At the Board's public hearing on January 13 (if the hearing is not cancelled again), it is hoped that the Board will see exactly what the Commission passed on December 10. Also, however, it is clear that the Board cannot rely on Departmental representations to that effect; and it is hoped that the Board will find a way to exercise genuine and effective oversight of county employees on this occasion and all future occasions.

INSERTED, MORE DETAILS ON THE PROCEDURAL ISSUE:
    As to the adoption process, it was illegal because the county published the meeting's agenda on January 9, only four days before the meeting. However, a state law required notice at least 15 days before the hearing: "Before adoption of a fee for service or an additional or separate charge pursuant to this section, the board of supervisors shall hold a public hearing on the issue with at least fifteen days' published notice," ARS 11-251.08.C.
    The day after the hearing, I asked about the lack of 15 days' notice, by sending emails to each county supervisor and to two people in the Planning Department, which had presented the fees at the January 13 meeting. Nobody answered. Other queries may have been made. Finally, on February 23, deputy county attorney Britt Hanson answered another citizen's question by stating that the county published notice of the proposed fees in a local newspaper on December 25, well before the 15 days required by state law.
    However, the publication of December 25 is very different from the fees presented to the supervisors on January 13. The differences include dropped items, added items, and some fees changed from "per meeting" to "per hour." The December 25 publication was not notice of what would be presented on January 13. The statute requiring 15 days' notice was not followed. The county's statement on the lack of 15 days' notice isn't a reason, it's a rationale.
    Here are condensed versions of the 15 numbered items in the detailed publication of December 25, with added comments about the Department's presentation on January 13.
        1. Subdivision Tentative Plat applications, $650 + $20/lot
            -- ON JANUARY 13: not mentioned
        2. Subdivision Final Plat applications, $650 + $10/lot
            -- ON JANUARY 13: not mentioned
        3. If county consultant commented on a plot, actual cost of consultant, typically $350
            -- ON JANUARY 13: not mentioned
        4. No fee for self-certified Subdivision Improvement Plans
            -- ON JANUARY 13: same (p. 4 para. 1 of the January 13 presentation)
        5. No fee for Minor Expedited Subdivision applications
            -- ON JANUARY 13: not mentioned
        6. County staff review of Improvement Plans, $126/sheet
            -- ON JANUARY 13: same (p. 4 para. 2)
            -- BUT ALSO ON JANUARY 13, though not mentioned on December 25: the county may choose to transmit Improvement Plans to Willdan, at actual cost, typically $200/sheet (p. 4 para. 3)
        7. For staff review of drainage reports etc., $350 for 1st and 2nd review, & $116 for subsequent reviews
            -- ON JANUARY 13: same (p. 5 para. 2)
            -- For staff review of Traffic Impact Analysis etc., $320 for 1st and 2nd review, & $107 for review of each revision
            -- ON JANUARY 13: same (p. 5 para. 4)
        8. For consultant review of items in 7, actual cost, typically $500
            -- ON JANUARY 13: same (p. 5 paras. 3 & 5)
        9. For expedited review of Improvement Plans by county consultant, typically $400/page
            -- ON JANUARY 13: same (p. 4 para. 4)
        10. For required weekly in-field meetings of subdivision improvements with self-certified Improvement Plans, $100/meeting (an extra $123/meeting if the County Development Engineer must attend)
            -- ON JANUARY 13: $100/HOUR, not /meeting (and an extra $123/HOUR, not/meeting) (p. 7 para. 1)
            -- This fee is limited to $100/inspection, up to $1000 for subdivisions with 27 or fewer lots
            -- BUT ON JANUARY 13: no mention of this limitation for self-certified subdivisions
        11. H&F Subdivision Phase Inspection Fee, $100/inspection up to $1000 for subdivisions with 27 or fewer lots
            -- BUT ON JANUARY 13: this was limited to non-self-certified subdivisions (p. 7 para. 2)
        12. 2nd required Subdivision Meeting, county staff $150/meeting, actual cost for consultant (typically $350/meeting)
            -- BUT ON JANUARY 13: not mentioned
        13. Necessary Non-Residential Development Comment Resolution Meetings, county staff $150/meeting, actual cost for consultant (typically $350/meeting)
            -- BUT ON JANUARY 13: $150/meeting, charged only once, no mention of cost for consultant (p. 6 para. 3)
        14. H&F Special Inspection Fee, $100/inspection
            -- ON JANUARY 13: same
        15. H&F fee for Inspection for Non-Subdivision Improvements Intended To Be Public, $100/inspection
            -- ON JANUARY 13: not quite the same -- a larger fee is implied: "This assumes each inspection/meeting takes no more than one hour at the Site."(p. 7 para. 3)
        ADDED ON JANUARY 13, though not mentioned on December 25: Subdivision Committee Meetings, $150/meeting (p. 6 para. 2)
    By no stretch of the imagination can the December 25 publication be called notice of the January 13 proposal. And the agenda for this item even said "PUBLIC PRESENTATION IS NOT AVAILABLE AT THIS TIME," so no citizen could know beforehand that the fees to be voted on were not what was publicized on December 25.
    Actually, it's not clear whether any of the supervisors realized that the fees had been changed, either. The supervisors should have been looking closely, too, because the last time that the Department showed the supervisors the draft fees, the Department made changes without telling the supervisors. But Call and Searle, the two supervisors who were in office at that meeting, apparently didn't look closely this time either.
    This wouldn't be the first time the supervisors have ignored the facts and law by purporting to rely on the advice given by deputy county attorney Hanson. On January 13, Hanson told the supervisors that state law allows the county to charge fees that include the cost of general office overhead. More on this is at http://littlebigdog.net/illegalfees.htm
    The supervisors should insist on legal advice that doesn't ignore or contradict the facts and law. The supervisors shouldn't ignore the facts and law in order to pick citizens' pockets.
    To save money, the county government could do away with the recent building code for rural areas. This program may, based on figures provided by the Planning Department, lose about half a million dollars this year; but the "growth is inevitable" gang, who are used to running county government for the benefit of real estate developers, insists on keeping the building code even though it's a flop in every way, and has caused many rural residents to become utterly disgusted with the county.
    It's still early in the the new 4-year term of the supervisors. There's still time for them to insist that county employees follow the law. Perhaps the supervisors could follow the example of Bisbee school officials, who also were badly advised in their recent decision to go to a 4-day school week, and changed their minds after a citizen -- not their attorney -- revealed the law to them.

THE DAY AFTER THE ABOVE WAS SENT,  Ms. Susana Montana, of the county Planning Department, "answered" my email, after a fashion.  Here's an update on that:
    Susana Montana, of the county Planning Department, has answered my email of yesterday, about the differences between "notice" of a hearing on fees, and the fees actually presented and approved.  Ms. Montana's answer had no words at all; it merely repeated my email and attached copies of the "notice" which my email examined in detail.  I'm not sure of Ms. Montana's point, so I sent her the answer below.  I'm hoping that the county will decide to actually discuss the facts and law.  Obviously, the county won't do that if it's only me that they have to answer.  It was only because somebody else asked about the issue that the county came alive at all, after five weeks of silence after I first asked.  So if you're tired of the county's overreaching into our pockets, now's a good time to tell the county.
    [this morning's answer to Susana's email]  "Good morning, Susana.  Thanks for your acknowledgment of my email of February 24, but I don't see the point of the acknowledgment saying not a word, but merely attaching the notice of December 25, 2008.  I've obviously already seen the notice; my writeup shows, point by point, the differences between it and the fees that were actually presented on January 13, 2009.  If you had sent the attachment on January 14, the day I first emailed you (& your boss, & the county supervisors) about the issue, the issues would be the same.  They could have been aired five weeks ago.  But what's the point of being silent for five weeks, then merely sending the attachment whose problems are obvious and that you know I've already seen?  Why not just discuss the facts and law?  Have a good day.  M."

Later on February 25, another update:  a county supervisor finally answered my recent emails today.  Here's the answer:  "The County Attorney represents the Board and reviews all our actions to keep us legal. I have asked about the posting issue and was told it was done correctly. The fee issue will be an on going project to determine where there should be fees and what the general fund should pay for without charging the applicant. I do not have a quick answer for now."
    In other words:  when faced with a painstaking analysis showing that the county attorney erred, the supervisor's answer was "but the attorney said so" -- as if what an attorney said didn't depend upon which side he was representing, so that if one attorney says one thing, the opposing attorney will usually say the opposite.  When discussing the merits of what an attorney says, it is absolutely irrelevant that an attorney said it.
    Unfortunately, while the county attorney may review the Board's actions, the review doesn't keep them legal.  I can't imagine why a supervisor, faced with the law and facts that show illegality, would accept at face value an attorney's denial of illegality.  Well, I know one reason:  a supervisor who follows the county attorney's advice is off the hook for personal liability for an illegal decision.  So one real job of the county attorney is to provide legal cover for the supervisors when they want to ignore the law.  But there's a big difference between a supervisor's letting an attorney contradict the facts and law, and the supervisor being able to convince the public not to believe its own eyes.  And when the supervisor blandly denies the facts and law, and pretends that the county attorney's advice has no other purpose but the public good, a citizen doesn't have to pretend to believe it.  And a supervisor who tries to pass off pablum as reasoned argument has little chance of steering the public debate in the direction the supervisor would like it to go.
    So I've answered the supervisor thus:  "Hi, ... , Mike here.  Thanks for answering.  I understand that someone from the county attorney's office is at the meetings, & almost always tells you that you can do what you want to do.  The problem is, what you are told is often incorrect.  A supervisor will ask if it's okay to do something which the law clearly prohibits, and the attorney present says 'Yes' even if that contradicts the facts and law.  On these fees, for instance:  it's the duty of the Planning Commission to forward to the BOS what the Commission has voted on, but last year, after the Commission voted on some proposed fees, the BOS never saw the package that the Commission had approved.  Instead of doing its own presenting, the Commission lets the Planning Department carry the packages up to the BOS.  At the work session where the Department presented fees to the BOS, the Department presented fees which were changed from what the Commission approved -- and the Department didn't tell the BOS what was going on.  The violation of law is absolutely clear.  But when this was challenged later, the county attorney said, fine, nothing to see here, move along.  Move ahead to the December notice of fees:  that was supposed to reflect what the Commission had approved, and would see in January.  But come January, the Department made the presentation again, and again the Department changed what the Commission had approved.  That is flat illegal.  I don't care if a county attorney says it's not, because I can read a statute too.  If you read the statute and look at the facts, you will see that the county attorney is wrong.  And this is only one instance.  So it's not satisfactory, when the facts and law show that the BOS did something illegal, for a supervisor to say, the county attorney says it's okay.  It's not satisfactory at all.  What the BOS needs to do -- and it will have to be you and ... that get it done, because Call is tied in so much to the old machine -- is to stop accepting shoddy, obviously defective work from the county attorney's office, and start insisting on quality work.  In my experience, plenty of people are tired of 'going along to get along' with Pat Call's crew, and I hope you come around."

END INSERTED EXTRA PROCEDURAL DETAILS

III. Illegal Fees

A. Policy Arguments

The Department wants citizens to pay fees to cover the time that employees spend on the jobs they were hired to do, and to cover other general expenses that are the result of having any government at all. However, citizens already pay for "overhead," through taxes, bonds, loans, or other devices. The Department is trying to charge citizens twice for being governed once.

This double-charging is especially obnoxious in Cochise County, where the average income is low, yet many Department jobs pay from $40 to $70 per hour -- so the fees would make poor people not just pay twice, but also pay far more than they themselves typically earn. Also, as county salaries increase, so will the fees aimed at recovering the cost of county salaries.

The Department has stated that such fees are aimed only at real estate developers. It has been suggested that rural people should not care about extra fees to developers. People realize, however, that if the Department can charge one set of people with illegal fees, the Department will eventually get around to charging illegal fees to ordinary citizens.


B. Legal Arguments

Arizona Revised Statute ("ARS") 11-251.08 lets a county charge for "specific products and services" to the public, but the fees "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."

By definition, "overhead" is not attributable to a specific product or service. If an expense is attributable to a specific item, the expense is not "overhead."

Therefore, ARS 11-251.08 does not allow a county to charge fees for "overhead."

Originally, in August, the Department's description said straight out that the proposed fees included charges for "overhead," and Montana's slide show and documents made clear that "overhead" included employee salaries, benefits, etc. In an email to me, Montana said that "overhead cost includes ... indirect costs of County Administrative support including, among others, of Human Resources/Payroll, insurance/risk management, utilities, facilities operation and maintenance, finance, treasurer and County Administrative staff. All of the overhead needed to support an application can be included in the fee as the 'actual full cost' of the application" (email, 8/19/08).

I answered that "If I read your email correctly, you're saying that you could simply relabel such overhead as a direct cost, and justify the proposed fees that way. If I'm not reading you correctly, please let me know, because it seems to me that if you agree that the items we're talking about really are overhead ... it would be wrong to relabel them as a direct cost. The statute clearly doesn't want overhead passed on to individuals as a fee.... Thanks for your consideration" (email, 8/19/08).

Montana did not respond. On October 6, the day before the Board work session, she emailed me that she would "forward your comments to the Supervisors now and will print copies of your comments and hand them out at the session." However, at the work session on October 7, my comments were not in the packet that Montana gave to me, and when I spoke about the illegality issue, some county employees appeared surprised by the issue.

At the October 7 work session, Montana acknowledged that the proposed fees included "salary plus benefits for each of the staff persons ... plus department overhead calculated at 25% of salary and benefits, that’s department overhead, and county overhead which would include risk management, payroll facilities [?], insurance, finance and treasury [?] costs, and that amounts to about 30% of staff salary" (transcribed from a recording of the meeting; some words were difficult to hear). In short, some of the proposed fees included little or nothing except overhead (information about some specific proposals is in Note 5).

On October 7, after the work session, I sent an email to Searle, Call, Buchan, Montana, and County Administrator Mike Ortega, stating my hope that when the matter came to the Board again, "the BOS will not merely obtain an off-the-cuff legal opinion delivered orally in the midst of a meeting, but will obtain a written opinion delivered well before the meeting, an opinion which I may see and reply to. I believe that since it is my suggestion that ARS 11-251.08 does not allow the fees at issue, that if the BOS receives a legal opinion in answer to my suggestion, that I should have the right to prepare a reply to the arguments in that answer. County counsel will hardly dispute that argument-answer-reply is a standard and fair form of argumentation." However, my request has remained unanswered.

At the Commission meeting on December 10, Montana presented a reworked request for fees. The substance of the request had not changed, but the word "overhead" had disappeared from the written material, and the replacement descriptions were vague. The Department had rewritten its descriptions to dodge the issue of illegality. Whatever the Department's reason for dodging the issue, the violations of ARS 11-251.08 remain.

Also on December 10, Montana stated, both orally and in writing, that the county auditor had found that the proposed fees were allowed by statute. During public comments, I noted that legality "is not a decision for the county auditor to make, that is a legal decision, and no attorney has been involved that the county has put on record." A few minutes later, when Corey questioned Montana, Montana said that the county attorney -- not the auditor, as Montana had just said at least twice -- "has reviewed the fees and it is within the limitations of the state statute." Montana provided no further discussion of the merits, nor did the county attorney in attendance (comments transcribed from recording of the meeting).

ADDITIONAL NOTE added January 14:  
At the supervisors' meeting on January 13, attorney Hanson advised the BOS that the county can charge fees to recover overhead, because of Paragraph A of ARS 11-251.08.  A little further down in that statute, Paragraph C says that to adopt a fee, the BOS shall hold a public hearing "with at least fifteen days' published notice"--but the agenda for January 13 wasn't posted until after the end of work hours on Friday, January 9, only 4 days before.  If Hanson read the whole statute before advising the BOS about what it meant, shouldn't he also have told them that 11 more days' notice was required for the adoption to be legal?  And what will the supervisors do if they look at the statute themselves -- let Hanson tell them that the words don't mean what they say?



IV. Conclusion

This problem gives the newly elected Supervisors a chance to turn a corner in county government. They can protect the integrity of the Board's processes, by insisting on open, law-abiding county government. The Board should require the Planning Department, under its new director, to follow the law. This will do credit to the Board and perhaps enable the Department, under its new director, to regain the respect of rural residents.


V. Notes

Note 1: The official agenda for August 13, 2008, is online at
http://www.co.cochise.az.us/P&Z/Agenda/2008-08%20PZ.htm
and the official minutes are at
http://www.co.cochise.az.us/P&Z/PNZMinutes/2008-08%20PZ.htm

Note 2: The Commission must transmit "all of its recommendations, decisions, findings, reports and official actions, regardless of vote, to the board of supervisors," ARS 11-804.A.4.

Note 3: Montana's email went to Board Clerk Katie Howard, James Vlahovich, Susan Buchan, Benny Young (head of the Highways & Floodplain Department), and Patricia Morris (Young's deputy).

Note 4: Vlahovich's email went to Montana's list, and also to County Administrator Michael Ortega (Vlahovich's boss).

Note 5: Some "overhead" items in the proposed fees. The entire text of the latest proposed fees is available (but not on line) from the Planning Department. It's very hard to compare all the versions in an organized manner, because the Department has made so many changes in what the Commission approved, and in the format of the presentation.

-- a. The October and December proposals include two paragraphs increasing the fee "for Subdivision Tentative Plat applications from $500 and $20 per lot to $650 and $20 per lot to cover the costs of staff participation in one required Subdivision Committee Meeting" and "for Subdivision Final Plat applications from $500 and $10 per lot to $650 and $10 per lot to cover the costs of staff participation in one required Subdivision Committee Meeting". These figures conflict with the Department's August 13 memo to the Commission, which said "The fee ... is, and will remain, $500 plus $20 per lot".

-- -- i. The increases to $650 from the "will remain $500" figure may be a result of "folding in" (and increasing by $25) a fee in the August version, described by the Department as "for County staff attendance [of] $125 per meeting [including] salary, benefits and administrative overhead". The October and December versions avoid saying "overhead," but that does not change the reality that the fee is for "overhead" so violates ARS 11-251.08.

-- -- ii. Also, the fee is not based on actual cost. A fee of $2650 for a 100-lot project (at $650 base fee plus $20 per lot) becomes $5310 for a 233-lot project, though the county doesn't do twice as much work for the larger project. A fee not based on cost violates ARS 11-251.08.

-- b. October and December proposal: "increase the H&F and P&Z fee for County staff review of improvement plans from $125 ... to $126 per sheet". The Department's August 13 memo said "$158 per sheet, [which] covers ... salary, benefits and administrative overhead". Even if an increase has been dropped from $158 to $126, the amount still includes items which amount to double taxation and violate ARS 11-251.08.

-- c. October and December proposal: "establish a new H&F and P&Z fee for County staff review, analysis, comment and coordination of comments of drainage reports, traffic analyses and other engineering reports associated with applications for subdivisions, non-residential development plans and improvement plans, Master Development Plans, Comprehensive Plan amendments, complex rezonings and special use permits, if applicable. The fee for staff review of drainage reports or similar engineering reports would be $350 for the 1st and 2nd review plus $116 for each additional review of revised reports. The fee for staff review of a Traffic Impact Analysis or traffic study would be $320 for the 1st and 2nd review plus $107 for review of each revision".

-- -- i. This appears to include a revision of items in the original August proposal which stated: "$668 for the first and second review ... plus $116 for the review of each subsequent revision [which the Department said] covers ... salary, benefits, and administrative overhead" -- an explanation which showed that the fee included overhead, in violation of ARS 11-251.08.

-- -- ii. This also appears to include another part of the August 13 proposal: "The ... Transportation Planner ... reviews subdivision-related and development-related TIAs [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 figures work out to about $53.50 of employee wages per hour, or $100,000 per year -- evidently greater than the actual wages, and in violation of ARS 11-251.08.

-- d. New proposal: "establish a new H&F fee for required weekly meetings in the field with County staff and subdivider's engineers and contractors to review construction of subdivision improvements subject to self-certified Improvement Plans at $100 per meeting with a maximum of $1,000 for subdivisions with 27 or fewer lots. If the County Development Engineer must attend the meeting, an additional fee of $123 per meeting is required".

-- -- i. The $65 per meeting fee that the Commission approved in August is now $100. Was the Department just sloppy originally, or is the raise only to collect more money?

-- -- ii. These fees can often exceed the costs involved. 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 $600. But if a day's work cost the county $600, a field inspector's salary would be about $150,000 per year -- over twice what a county supervisor makes. Using fees to collect amounts that exceed costs is precisely what is prohibited by ARS 11-251.08.

-- e. Miscellaneous other items, all in a day's work, for which the Department proposes fees, even though citizens have already the expense of these items via taxes, etc.

-- -- i. For subdivision phase inspection, increase from $50 to $100 per inspection, up to $1000 for small subdivisions.

-- -- ii. For county staff participation in second and subsequent subdivision committee meetings, $150 per meeting.

-- -- iii. For staff participation in comment resolution meetings, $150 per meeting.

-- -- iv. For special inspections, increase from $50 to $100 per inspection.

-- -- v. For non-subdivision improvements intended to be public, increase from $50 to $100 per inspection.

-- f. A variety of fees, typically $350 per to $500 per item, for outside consultants. These fees accrue only when the county staff is "unable" to do its own job.


UPDATE:  After receiving an email with the above, a person with a fair amount of inside knowledge about county government, who sensibly wishes me to keep his or her anonymity, writes "The reason the County wants to raise the cost of reviewing subdivision plats is because they are currently having the reviews done by an engineering firm out of Phoenix, who is charging them $150 to $250 per sheet.  So the County is actually losing money per sheet."  (If you look at the above writeup, this issue is in the very last paragraph.)

So much was known.  What wasn't known was the rest of today's leak:  "I know for a fact that there are local engineers in this County who are willing to perform these reviews for $100 per sheet or less."

If that statement is correct, then the county could spend only half the money on consultant fees, and keep the money inside the county, instead of letting it trickle to Phoenix.

Spending less, and keeping it inside the county, sounds like a real obvious way to cut down on county expenses, and take the pressure off the need for more budget cuts.  Why would an item like this not be number one on the county's agenda?

ANOTHER INCOMING EMAIL includes the following great comments:
    There is a reason Cochise County is the poorest county in the state, and that reason is located at 1415 Melody lane in Bisbee.  If we want to have governance by the residents of this county, we need to unseat the entrenched officials and county employees that stand in the way of "we the people".  Societies that do not grow and prosper...... wither and die. (How many ghost towns do we have in Arizona??????)
    In this economy, all levels of government and private enterprise are scrambling to find money in order to survive.. We cannot fault them for that, but they need to do it within the confines of law.
    As for the increase in fees that they want to saddle us with, another confirmation that supports actual costs and not overhead is found in the Public Records Laws.  Essentially, it says that charging for anything except the actual production costs of copies is in violation of State law.. From the Arizona Public Records Law booklet put out by the Ombudsman's Office at http://www.azag.gov/Agency_Handbook/CHAPTER%206.pdf
    6.5.4    Non-Commercial Use. A person requesting copies, printouts, or photographs of  public records for a non-commercial purpose may be charged a fee for the records. A.R.S. § 39-121.01; but see Section 6.5.6 infra. An agency may charge a fee it deems appropriate for copying records, including a reasonable amount for the cost of time, equipment, and personnel used in producing copies of records, but not for costs of searching for the records. A.R.S. § 39-121.01(D)(1); Hanania v. City of Tucson, 128 Ariz. 135, 624 P.2d 332 (Ct. App. 1980); Ariz. Att'y Gen. Op. I86-090.
    When the government takes our hard earned money and uses it to pay an attorney to do us damage, that government is out of our control and we are all in trouble.  (Britt Hansen has to go!)   Do you know of a legal beagle that is willing to slap their hand in court?  They are obviously not listening to us.

I have to wonder, why isn't the county attorney advising the Board about this?  Do county attorneys view their job as enabling whatever county government wants to do, instead of keeping county government inside the law?