Paso Robles to keep waiving fees for builders

City Council extends rule meant to stimulate growth; some say the city is missing out on needed funds

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comJanuary 13, 2013 

The Paso Robles City Council has extended a program that’s waived nearly $1 million in income from developer fees over the past two years in order to help stimulate growth.

The move adds an additional six months to the effort that’s been the focus of heated discussion and has already been extended several times since it began in February 2011. Critics say the city should not be turning away income at a time when it’s hurting, while supporters say growth ultimately means more local jobs.

The program specifically waives fees that developers normally pay the city to offset impacts their housing and commercial projects can have on community assets, such as parks, the library and police services. The city typically saves those impact dollars for when fixes and upgrades are needed to the area.

The fees don’t go toward repairing roads, Community Development Director Ed Gallagher said.
When it came time to determine whether to extend the program last month, not everyone agreed on what to do.

The waivers are intended to be an incentive to build, thus leading to short-term jobs in construction and long-term jobs after commercial projects are completed. There’s also the idea that sales tax gains would come from any building materials purchased.

Steve Martin, elected to the council in November, voted against the extension. He didn’t see the value because city staff indicated there’s no way to track whether the waiver meant more residents got jobs or related building materials were purchased in town.

“It’s a lot of money. There’s no way to draw a cause-and-effect relationship on it,” Martin said. “We’ve come through a very difficult economic time, but now we need to think about the future.”

The city has addressed multimillion-dollar deficits from the recession with a hiring freeze and cutting some services. Certain maintenance upkeep has been canceled and the popular Centennial Pool was closed.

But Mayor Duane Picanco said he is thinking about the future by supporting the waiver because any potential for economic growth is good for the long-term health of the community.

“The main thing is the jobs. Jobs create income, and hopefully (those people are) spending that income in our city,” Picanco said.

The mayor pointed to building projects in the city’s industrial sector as an example.

Expansions for companies such as Paso Robles-based engineering and manufacturing firm Applied Technologies, he said, add ongoing jobs to the area. Applied Technologies, which used the city’s permit waiver in October 2012, told The Tribune last year that the company would add as many as 200 jobs over the next three to five years.

Overall, in 2011 and 2012, waivers were served on a total of 98 permits for residential units and commercial buildings, Gallagher said, equating to about $985,000 in lost revenue to the city.

Two of those permit applicants ended up being forfeited because they didn’t complete their projects within the program’s one-year deadline, Gallagher said.

The council’s latest extension through June 30 allows for an additional 25 permit applications for waivers, which could nix $250,000 in fee income to the city.

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