2010-08-25 / News

Commission recommends against “fee holiday”

By Greg Pearson

Waller Waller On a narrow 3-2 vote last week, the Chesterfield Planning Commission recommended against reducing planning fees and sent the issue back to the supervisors for a final decision. The commission majority – apparently like the board’s majority – questions whether reducing fees in the short term spurs immediate economic development activity in the county.

Planning staff presented a menu of six options that would be more targeted than the “fee holiday” that ended June 30. After the meeting, Assistant Planning Director Glen Larson revised the lost revenue estimates. They included: 1.) waiving all site plan original fees (costing Chesterfield an estimated $60,000-$80,000); 2.) waiving all tentative subdivision fees ($55,000-$75,000); 3.) reducing zoning fees for office and industrial applications ($7,000-$10,000); 4.) continue the previous “fee holiday” but exclude applications for cell towers and electronic signs ($130,000-$150,000); 5.) subsidize some rezoning applications ($140,000-170,000); and 6.) reducing site plan original application fees ($25,000-$30,000). Commissioners Bill Brown and Sam Hassen, who opposed the motion, favored options four and six.

Bass Bass Clover Hill Commissioner Russ Gulley voted to end the “fee holiday” because “from a fiscal perspective” he couldn’t support a measure “that costs the county money” when there have been budget cutbacks and layoffs.

“The fee holiday may sound good but does it do good?” asked Midlothian Commissioner Reuben Waller.

Two commissioners wanted the county’s economic development department to weigh in on the matter, but no one from the department was present. “I’m really disappointed economic development isn’t represented,” said Matoaca Commissioner Wayne Bass.

The heart of the problem is Chesterfield charges more in planning fees than surrounding jurisdictions, particularly Henrico County. Bob Schrum, a board member of the Chesterfield County Chamber of Commerce, estimated Chesterfield is “two-and-a-half to three times higher.”

Chesterfield Business Council Chairman Greg Creswell said lower fees would “help generate new business and tax revenue thereafter.”

Business leaders believe the county’s higher fees drive some businesses – particularly small businesses – to Henrico. Higher fees in Chesterfield are a result of having less retail and other commercial development to generate more tax revenue. About 80 percent of Chesterfield’s property taxes come from residential properties with higher costs of providing services like schools. About 70 percent of Henrico’s property tax base comes from residential. Two commissioners indicated they were willing to consider the larger fee issue if requested by the county board.

Resident Paul Grasewicz opposed reducing fees, saying “residential development is not economic development…[and] the benefit from rezonings can take years.” He pointed out that Chesterfield just implemented a fee for homeowners who recycle.

The previous “fee holiday” cost the county about $180,000 in “lost” fees. If some form of holiday is passed next month by the board, county staff proposes it run from October through June 30, 2011.

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