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Committee says no to change in Balcones mitigation fees

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

In a close vote, a divided Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan Citizens Advisory Committee has approved a measure to maintain the current pricing structure on Participation Certificates, which provide financial mitigation for land development in predetermined “habitat zones.” The vote was 5-4.

 

Travis County administers the voluntary program, which amounts to a streamlined process allowing agencies and landowners to comply with the Endangered Species Act. The BCP lands protect eight endangered species. The fees were instituted in 1995 and have been reviewed every year since by the BCCP Citizens Advisory Committee. The fees range from$1,000 to $6,500 per acre.

 

The revenue gained from issuing PCs has fluctuated with the national economy over the past 13 years. In FY05, the fees brought in nearly a $1 million, which ballooned to nearly $3.5 million by FY07. This year, however, the county has seen less than $250,000.

 

Committee Member Ken Mills moved to lower the fees to their 2006 levels, arguing that such a decrease would be “more about symbolism and psychology” than it would be a financial incentive. Under the 2006 levels fees would decrease between $250 and $1,500.

 

Chair Joe Lessard told the committee beforehand that he had originally intended to oppose a decrease, although he eventually voted in its favor. He said that developments would perhaps opt to pay the lesser fee more immediately, and thus become part of the primary funding mechanism for the BCP, tax increment financing. This funding mechanism allows for the BCP to gain money from increased values of developed lands in the habitat zones. Essentially, by paying the PC fee land would be earmarked earlier for the TIF allowing for a longer term benefit, Lessard said.

 

Committee Member Sarah (Baker) Faust said she would not be voting for the decrease saying “I disagree that the committee is here to hasten the increase of land clearing.” She had support from other committee members, such as Mary Ann Neely, who said, “it’s a great idea, but I’m going to oppose” the decrease.

 

Ultimately, Lessard said, “regardless of what the fee is, we’re not likely to see a substantial amount of cash to come in.” After the motion failed, the committee passed a motion re-stating the current fees.

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