Mike Rutherford has been doing some thinking.
First and foremost, Washington County’s zoning administrator said Wednesday he is seriously considering a run against Dan Eldridge for the county mayor spot next year.
He also is ready to ask the County Commission to hire a full-time planning director, who would be placed in his office under his supervision. This is a move that has not been discussed in public by the full commission — a commission that still must override Eldridge’s veto of a resolution put into motion in March to change state law and restrict the mayor’s control over appointments to the Regional Planning Commission — a move Rutherford openly favors.
“I’ve told county commissioners that our planning commission is second to none,” he said. “The mayor has his viewpoint, but we feel the more representation the better. The beauty of all these positions (his seven-member staff) is that each person does whatever I tell them to do that day. You can hire a planning director without hiring a staff to help him.”
A draft of the proposed planning director’s duties include helping implement the county’s growth plan; promoting future land-use planning initiatives with stakeholders; identifying essential services and infrastructure improvements; and working with other departments to sustain growth and development.
Also in the pipeline are three resolutions he plans to introduce to commissioners May 28. The first is a revised zoning-related fee schedule that eliminates permit fees, such as minor and major subdivisions of property, grading permit fees and stormwater permits.
Residential and commercial zoning compliance permits would be cut in half under this plan, and all charges for printed copies of regulations as well as maps and overlays would dropped.
“I’ve listened to the contractors and builders, and I decided to take a look back at this,” he said. “The best way I can say it is how the resolution reads.”
It basically states that the overall goal is to promote economic development, to reaffirm county government’s commitment to growth and prosperity and to reignite the local economy.
“Let’s say you buy an acre of land for $20,000, and you decide to break it up into three lots,” he said. “The assessment on your property will triple. So why should we charge you a subdivision fee? You’ve also got people that need to subdivide and sell just to get by. These folks can’t afford to pay these fees. There also are deeds and appraisals that are going to cost these people.”
Under current regulations, a minor subdivision fee, which would be one or two lots, costs $50 per lot. A major subdivision, in which developers are traditionally involved, costs $100 per lot. Remember, this cost could be multiplied by as many homes, or plats a developer chooses to build. This does not include a $200 site plan fee, grading permit fees up to $250 and stormwater project fees of up to $500.
Rutherford’s proposal would put an end to these particular fees.
It’s obvious an incentive to develop is at play here, but what about the lost revenue?
“The people are putting money on the tax rolls, so why not help them out?” he said. “Developers have to invest a lot of money, and we’re going to charge them $700 to get them on the tax rolls? How do you stimulate the economy? You make things as desirable as possible.”
Zoning Administrator’s Office Chief Deputy Chris Pape offered this perspective: “If you go to Lowe’s to buy a yard barn for $1,000, would you want to pay a $150 permit fee?”
Three operations now function under the Zoning Administrator’s Office: codes compliance, planning (planning commission) and stormwater management. The total budget this year for these operations is $586,941, according to Pape. The estimate according to the county’s budget is about $1,000 more.
Each year, about $100,000 from fees is deposited in the county’s general fund, he said. A percentage also goes to the county clerk’s office in the form of a commission.
“They may lose half that revenue, but we’re investing that in the community,” he said.
Codes compliance alone, which includes building permitting, has an estimated FY 2012-13 budget of $492,844.
The total estimated cost for “county official, assistant(s) and other salaries and wages” is estimated at $159,823. That’s a nearly 44 percent increase over the 2011-12 approved budget of $111,189. The 2010-11 expenditure was $108,096.
Rutherford’s salary and expenses for this year is an estimated $75,048, an 18 percent increase over the approved 2011-12 budget of $63,505. This line item was $61,654 in the 2010-11 budget.
“You can’t do a cost analysis on this office, because there is so much crossover,” he said Wednesday. “You have stormwater, codes, a GIS department — you can’t sit down and say ‘there’s a $50 fee, and here’s how many copies were made.’ ”
Meanwhile, his second resolution cuts in half what the county charges for building permits. The fees rise according to a sliding scale with the cost of construction determining the fee.
“We want to be competitive with surrounding counties, and we’re not,” he said. “All we want is compliance; we’re not in the fee business.”
Washington County’s first-ever in-house residential building codes inspector began issuing permits without state assistance Sept. 2, marking the start of a move meant to close communication gaps and quicken the overall process.
The estimated amount of collections for the 2012-13 fiscal year budget is $120,000. As of April 31, just more than $80,000 had been collected with the fiscal year set to end June 30.
Rutherford said he was never informed of the $120,000 budget for building permit fee revenue this year.
“Why in the hell would you budget that much?” he said. “Last year when they set the projected numbers, they never talked with me. But we’re probably going to surprise them this year. It’s really picking up right now.”
The prior year’s budget was $76,094, so this mark already has been surpassed.
Rutherford’s third proposed resolution would set the number of Board of Zoning Appeals members at five. However, two additional “associate members” would be named. These members would be called upon when one or more of the five-member body was unable to make the meetings.
“If someone can’t make it, an alternate will fill in,” he said. “Our goal is to have five members here at all times to hear your appeal.”