The Sonora City Council approved a three-year plan to increase planning and development fees, which are currently so low officials say they cover only 5.7 percent of the cost on taxpayers.

The plan was approved at a public meeting on Monday night by a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Mark Plummer in opposition to the increases. It will be the first time the fees have been increased since they were created in 1998.

Plummer said he was opposed to plan because he didn’t feel right about approving such steep increases on only a weekend’s worth of thought.

Mayor Jim Garaventa said, “I don’t think it’s fair to put so much of the onus of what we do in this area on the backs of the regular taxpayer. I think it needs to be a more equitable situation.”

Garaventa said the city provides such large subsidies in the area of planning and development to the detriment of other services, such as police, fire, public works, and roads.

The fees that will increase are for things like amendments to the city’s General Plan, zoning changes, use permit applications, variances, development agreements, land division, design reviews, and reviews on landscaping and site plans.

Many of the city’s fees are between $240 and $590, which would go up incrementally each year to as much as $2,980 by Sept. 1, 2021.

Some of the fees would increase more than others. For example, a zoning change would go from $590 to $1,898 by 2021, while a site plan would go from $240 to $2,372 over the same period.

The increases were determined through a study conducted by Paula Daneluk, the city’s planning consultant, that determined the city’s current fees are covering $7,170 in costs for providing services out of $41,067 in costs that are eligible.
Costs include the salary and wages of city workers involved in providing the service, as well as other indirect expenses.

Daneluk used requirements on public notices for zone changes as an example of costs that are higher than what the city is charging. The city is required to publish a legal notice twice in The Union Democrat as the area’s newspaper of general circulation, which costs $509, but the city charges $590 for the entire service.

“That leaves you less than $100 to really do anything at all with that project,” she said. “You don’t really have enough money left in that budget to open a file and distribute it to the people who need to look at it, much less analyze it.”

The study included information on the same fees in other areas that shows many would still be higher than what the city would be charging by the third year of the plan.

Tuolumne County charges $5,323 for a zone change, while the city currently charges $590. By the third year, the city would be charging $1,898 for the same service. The City of Angels Camp charges $1,500 for the same service.

Daneluk called the city’s current fees “laughable.”

Councilman Matt Hawkins initially said he was opposed to the fees and wanted to delay a decision until they could be studied further, but then later changed his mind and voted in favor of them after hearing the arguments.

There was no public comment over the issue.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.



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