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Travis County considers fee hike to cover development costs

Friday, September 11, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

Travis County Commissioners plan to raise development fees. The fees currently paid by large developers have not been amended since 2004, and are not covering the cost of the infrastructure they require. On top of that, property tax rates in the County are going down. The fees would pay for the county’s own development costs, as well as the federally-mandated storm water management program.


Currently, the Transportation and Natural Resources Department (TNR) partially subsidizes the cost of its Development Review Program, which works with developers to make sure new land developments are meeting various codes and regulations. Because TNR currently uses money from the general fund, the increased fees would ease the financial burden on the county.


Joe Gieselman, Executive Manager for TNR, briefed commissioners on the different fee structures. The first was a 10 percent across the board increase for development review permits. The increase would provide an estimated $50,000 to further fund the existing duties of TNR under the review program.


Because Travis County and the City of Austin jointly manage the area in the city’s Extra Territorial Jurisdiction, the 10 percent increase would only apply to developments outside the ETJ. The fees would be assessed to those seeking a residential “a” or “b” permit depending on flood plain, utility permits, driveway permits and the series of permits needed for a residential subdivision or commercial development.


In addition to the 10 percent increase, TNR proposed new fees to cover the Storm Water Management Program (SWMP). The SWMP assists county personnel with technical guidance to ensure land development doesn’t cause water pollution, and costs $776,412 a year.


In order to close the gap between the cost of the SWMP and its funding, TNR proposed three fee increases. The increases would range from $4 for a single residential lot up to $2,172 for a residential development plan, and the fees could net $279,000 for the county. It currently spends $205,000 annually on the SWMP, whether it’s a busy year or a light year.


The second proposed fee is a water maintenance fee and a new permit program to ensure subdivisions and commercial property are “properly maintained and routinely inspected,” according to Gieselman’s memo. The revenue from these fees would eventually grow to an estimated $84,000 by the fourth year, when it would cover the cost of the program. The new fee would be “normally associated with subdivisions or commercial development that have a fairly large footprint of parking lots and roadways and drainage,” said Environmental Program Manager John White. New storm water structures would cost an additional $300, with a yearly review fee of $150. Re-inspections would cost $50 and permit transfers $300.


The third proposed fee is a new general drainage fee, which would be assessed on “select” owners of real property in unincorporated areas of Travis County. Gieselman’s memo stated that this one fee could fully fund the SWMP without the Development Review increase and could provide estimated revenue of $900,000 a year or more. It would charge developments between $30 and $300. Vacant lots, parking lots and single-family residential units would be spared. Multi-family residential units would be charged between $30 and $100, while commercial developments would be in the  $100 to $150 range. Industrial and utility lots would get hit with an extra $300.


Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the changes on Oct. 20.

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