Editorial: Falling fees fine; hike not so appealing

How’s this for a switch? The county of San Luis Obispo is proposing to modify hundreds of user fees next year for everything from playing golf to losing library books. Yet in many cases, it will be charging less for its services.

The number of fees proposed to decrease — 280 — outnumbers the fees that are slated to go up —236. In the Planning and Building Department, for instance, 162 fees are proposed to drop. According to a county staff report, the decreases are possible because “changes in procedures” have meant that less time is required to provide the services.

We’re not quite sure what those “changes in procedures” entail, but we’re glad the county is finding ways to save here and there — and we’re even happier to see the savings passed on to the public.

We’re not so pleased, though, with a proposal to raise the fee for appealing county planning decisions.

Under the proposed fee schedule, the cost of filing an appeal would go up anywhere from 45 percent to as much as 205 percent, depending on the complexity of the case. The actual dollar cost could be as high as $2,600.

The staff report points out that even with the increase, the county will recover only 22 percent to 50 percent of the actual cost of handling an appeal.

That may be the case, but this is one of those instances when the county should pick up the bulk of the expense, rather than trying to pass it on to the users.

Filing an appeal of a Planning Department decision isn’t discretionary in the same way as, say, swimming in a county pool or playing a round of golf at a county course is. An appeal is often a last resort — a move necessary to overturn a decision the appellants believe to be harmful, unfair or even unjust.

While we believe some nominal fee is appropriate — mostly to discourage nuisance filings — a 205 percent increase is way too much. It could deter some people from seeking their day at City Hall — or in this case, the county Government Center.

We urge the Board of Supervisors to find a more reasonable alternative.

If you go ...

The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the proposed fee schedule at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24, at the County Government Center, 1055 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo.