The county has used improper procedures to set illegal fees
(originally posted as part of the longer page
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
JANUARY 13: not mentioned
2. Subdivision Final Plat applications,
$650 + $10/lot
JANUARY 13: not mentioned
3. If county consultant commented on a
plot, actual cost of consultant, typically $350
JANUARY 13: not mentioned
4. No fee for self-certified Subdivision
JANUARY 13: same (p. 4 para. 1 of the January 13 presentation)
5. No fee for Minor Expedited
JANUARY 13: not mentioned
6. County staff review of Improvement
JANUARY 13: same (p. 4 para. 2)
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
JANUARY 13: same (p. 5 para. 2)
staff review of Traffic
Impact Analysis etc., $320 for 1st and 2nd review, & $107 for
review of each revision
JANUARY 13: same (p. 5 para. 4)
8. For consultant review of items in 7,
actual cost, typically $500
JANUARY 13: same (p. 5 paras. 3 & 5)
9. For expedited review of Improvement
Plans by county consultant, typically $400/page
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)
JANUARY 13: $100/HOUR, not
/meeting (and an extra $123/HOUR, not/meeting) (p. 7 para. 1)
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
11. H&F Subdivision Phase
$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
12. 2nd required Subdivision Meeting,
$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
-- BUT ON
$150/meeting, charged only once, no mention of cost for consultant (p.
6 para. 3)
14. H&F Special Inspection Fee,
JANUARY 13: same
15. H&F fee for Inspection for
Non-Subdivision Improvements Intended To Be Public, $100/inspection
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
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
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,
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]
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."
when faced with a painstaking analysis showing that the
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.
while the county attorney may review the Board's actions, the review
doesn't keep them legal. I can't imagine why a supervisor,
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
off the hook for personal liability for an illegal decision.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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.
Note 1: The official agenda for August 13, 2008, is online at
and the official minutes are at
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
-- -- 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
-- 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
-- -- 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.
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
6.5.4 Non-Commercial Use. A person requesting copies, printouts, or
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?