Under stiff pressure from building industry representatives, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday agreed to postpone a vote on proposed increases in hundreds of building, planning and engineering fees.
The move came after more than two hours of board discussion and public comment on the hikes, which were proposed last month to help recover costs and fill a budget shortfall at the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department. The board will reconsider the issue at its May 11 meeting.
The hikes have been met with fierce opposition from the building industry. At Tuesday’s meeting more than half a dozen builders and representatives of contractors’ groups assailed the proposals.
“I think they’re untimely and ill-advised,” said Doug Hilberman, a Santa Rosa architect representing the Redwood Empire chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Two-thirds of the 250 affected fees, including building permits and electrical inspections — the most common services — are set only for a modest increase of 1.4 percent. For another group of nearly 90 services dealing with grading, construction around creeks and permits for subdivisions, the increase would range from 2 percent to 77 percent, with a dozen reaching 100 percent.
The hikes and an additional 12 new land-use and planning fees would raise $1.5 million and help the county recover a larger share of the costs associated with providing permit services, said County Planning Director Pete Parkinson, who oversees PRMD.
They would also help make up for the department’s declining financial support from the county’s general fund, down 40 percent or $2 million in the past two years.
Those cuts and a $2.4 million drop in revenue from building permits since mid-2007 have led to 27 layoffs at the department, with another 15 proposed from of the current staff of 139 for next fiscal year, Parkinson said.
Without the hikes, more layoffs and delays in service would be likely, Parkinson told supervisors.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that will occur,” he said.
The four supervisors present expressed concern about the effect of the hikes on contractors, who’ve seen unemployment soar and record-low building activity in recent years.
Supervisors Mike Kerns and Valerie Brown, however, said they thought the fee increases necessary to maintain county services, while supervisors Efren Carrillo and Shirlee Zane opposed the hikes.
Zane echoed builders, suggesting total recovery of county costs was “unsustainable at this time.” She also took aim at the way fees hikes were calculated, based on staff time needed for PRMD services.
“I think we do have staff that could work more efficiently,” she said.
Faced with a standoff, the board directed Parkinson to return Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. with a presentation on how staff and services would be affected by approval of only the larger group of marginal fee hikes.
Supervisor Paul Kelley was attending a water agency conference Tuesday.