• Planning fee recovery: Community input is vital

    Pacific Grove’s Community Development Department (CDD) set a goal of “preserving services through the economic storm,” meaning that, after large budget cuts, staff layoffs, contracting with other agencies, reducing staff by 43 percent and instituting voter-approved taxes, there is still a budget gap of $1.5 million.

    One area being examined is the large general revenue subsidy for fee-based services that Pacific Grove has, particularly in the planning department. Staff estimates that 73 percent of the cost for service, on average, is borne by General Revenues – the public.

    Staff, looking for ways to recover costs, reached out to the community for input.

    A public meeting was held Monday, September 23 and some 50 people – architects, builders, property owners and members of the Architectural Review Board among them – attended and gave their suggestions.

    The meeting was divided into discussion groups, each of which outlined their ideas for reducing costs or recovering some or all. Several themes emerged:

    A desire to retain the Architectural Review Board as a separate commission, considering its value in preserving the “character” of Pacific Grove

    Suggestions to give more over-the-counter and staff approvals of uncomplicated matters

    A general agreement that 100 percent recovery was too much while the current rate of 27 percent was too little

    Continuing to look for ways of streamlining the process.

    Some members of the public in attendance stated their belief that the major portion of the costs should be paid by the public because the public benefits from the planning process, while others stated a belief that the property owner was the major beneficiary and should bear the cost.

    The use of volunteers for certain functions was suggested.

    Lynn Burgess, Chief Planner, believes that the use of volunteers would have to be carefully balanced with the importance of the procedure. “In many cases,” she said, “we would still need to have staff involved.” She pointed out the need for careful attention to timing when considering notices, mailings, hearings, and other communications, stating a concern that volunteers wouldn’t always be available to handle these tasks.

    A list of permit and variance tasks to give a sample analysis of staff time and costs per permit was prepared for attendees. It included such minute tasks as posting the agenda outside on the bulletin board, at the library and in a binder. Some tasks are routinely handled by an office assistant, but others are assisted or performed by planning staff. The total came to 28.25 hours, plus 2.5 hours to cover costs if the project is referred back to the applicant, totaling 30.75 hours. Also involved is the cost of advertising and mailing when a 300-foot radius mailing is required.

    Burgess stated, “We have to be patient. This is a very complex issue.”

    The item will likely be agendized for the October 13, 2009 meeting of the City Council.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on September 24, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition, Front PG News, Marge Ann Jameson


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