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SLO County officials adjust fees charged for services

Every year, the county takes a new look at the fees it charges to taxpayers and makes adjustments.

This year is no exception, and county leaders have agreed to increase, lower or leave untouched the fees it has established over the years.

After making the adjustments, it now has 2,613 of them.

They are for things the county offers “beyond the basic, tax-supported services.”

While neither the Board of Supervisors nor county administrators defined what constitutes a “basic tax-supported service,” they agreed on which of the thousands of services do not fall under that rubric.

Those range from fines on overdue library books to developer fees to golf course fees. They include licenses, permits, fines and many other categories spread throughout the county government. The greatest number is in the Planning and Building Department — 1,629 fees.

They are essentially user fees, supervisors said; not end runs around Proposition 13 or a tax under a different name.

“If fees don’t cover the costs the general taxpayer pays,” Supervisor Bruce Gibson said.

Some of the added costs in the Planning and Building Department, according to a staff report, are coming about because of “an increase in the complexity of projects reviewed,” as well as additional state and federal requirements.

“Another factor ... is an $11 per hour increase in the hourly rate for staff time spent on processing permits,” the report states.

Many of the increases are coming about because of decreased use of, and the subsequent decreased income from such amenities as county parks and golf courses.

Some locals protested the increases, most notably Jerry Bunin, government affairs director for the Central Coast Homebuilders Association.

Bunin said it already costs home builders $50,000 to $80,000 more to build a home than it can be sold for. He called additional fees counterproductive.

But he found little sympathy with county leaders, who reiterated, as Supervisor Adam Hill put it, that such fees “would have to be subsidized by the taxpayer” if the builder did not pay.

“People want a high level of government services,” Hill said, “(but) they don’t want to pay for them. They’re going to have to pay for them.”

Supervisors were slightly more sympathetic to library supporters who objected to new charges for the use of library conference rooms in Atascadero, Nipomo and Cayucos. One library backer called those “a triumph of bean counters over civilization.”

Supervisor Frank Mecham balked at making a special argument for libraries.

“We have to be fair across the board,” he said.

Others agreed, and County Administrative Officer Jim Grant said the library system recently lopped $600,000 from its budget.

“They’re looking for ways to stay open,” Grant said.

Nonetheless, supervisors asked the administration to come back with a proposal for libraries that might answer the concerns, including, possibly, exempting nonprofit groups that provide a public service from paying the fees.

In all, the Board of Supervisors left 1,858, or 68 percent of fees, unchanged; increased amounts for 436 fees; decreased amounts for 436 fees; created 86 more fees; and eliminated 113 fees.

County fee increases and new levies

  • Animal shelter quarantine fee, up $93 to $165 from $72.
  • Pool and spa remodel fee will be $302 — a new levy.
  • Proposed fee to use community rooms at the Atascadero, Nipomo and Cayucos libraries is $17 an hour for for-profit groups and $13 an hour for nonprofit groups.
  • Minor-use permit application, up $157 or 35.3 percent.
  • Road impact appeal fee, down to $592 from $729.
  • Auto parking fees at the San Luis Obispo airport remain unchanged.
  • The regional parks day-use will jump to $3 from $2, and the yearly pass to $30 from $20.
  • Golf courses will eliminate their $135 adult discount and senior discount cards and replace them with a single basic adult card at $99.
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