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LCRA raises permit fees for developers to recover 100 percent of cost

Thursday, February 20, 2014 by Jimmy Maas

Developers along the Highland Lakes will be paying more for construction permits as part of the Lower Colorado River Authority’s effort to keep what’s left of its water supply as clean as possible.


The LCRA Board of Directors approved the increase in permit fees in areas under the Highland Lakes Watershed Ordinance Wednesday. It is the first increase in the fee structure originally set in 1990. The new fee structure will cover 100 percent of the program’s cost. Until now, the program’s fees had only covered 2 percent of costs.


Vice Chair John Dickerson of Matagorda County moved that the board pass the fee change with what he referred to as “option C” or total recovery of costs, versus other options of 25 and 50 percent.


While a majority of the board leaned toward recouping all costs from the builder, a few members were holding out for a gradual increase. Director John Franklin of Burnet County thought that such a steep hike could deter development.


Franklin’s support of a gradual introduction of new fees would mean any shortcomings in the budget would be covered by the Public Service Fund, which is pooled from all LCRA customers, not just developers.


“It (the ordinance) helps everyone down river, so that benefit is not just in Burnet County,” said Franklin, whose county falls within the ordinance.


Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger appealed for developers in her county before the board. She agreed the old fees are too low, but she asked the board to escalate the fees gradually.


“I understand your goal to recover costs in each of your operations,” said Klaeger. “Three percent cost recovery is obvious mismanagement of the program, however to move that program to 100 percent cost recovery could be devastating to some of the rural communities.”


“Just to show you what the difference is,” said Klaeger, “in Burnet County right now, a 100-acre single-family permit cost from the LCRA would go from $850 to $20,340. A 250-acre, single-family permit would go from $1,800 to $42,240.”


Her example points out under the new plan, permit fees will average more than 23 times what the old fees were.


Franklin made a motion to amend Dickerson’s motion, adding a graduated fee increase of 25 percent a year over the next four years.


“We feel very strongly that an increase of this size will actually turn away people that are looking to move to the county at this time,” said Klaeger.


But much of the board found even with dramatic adjustment, the fees are still competitive.


“If you look at the comparative numbers,” responded Director Franklin Scott Spears of Travis County, “like for the 100 acres, the LCRA goes to $20,340. Well, if you look at the City of Austin, they’re at $37,000. Lakeway is $31,000; Cedar Park is $22,000 (and) Travis County is $22,000, so we’re still much less.” Franklin’s amendment to the motion failed in an 11-3 vote with directors Franklin, Buddy Schrader and Ray Gill (both of Llano County) voting against.


Subsequently, the motion to accept the fee increase at 100 percent cost recovery was passed in a 12-2 vote, with Franklin and Schrader opposing.


The fee increase is the denouement of a review of the Highland Lakes Watershed Ordinance that began last August.


The ordinance applies to all land modification activity within the Lake Travis Watershed in Travis County, the Colorado River Watershed in Burnet County and a portion of Llano County. It includes construction of buildings, roads, paved storage areas and parking lots. It also includes the clearing of vegetative cover, excavating, dredging and filling, grading, contouring, mining and burying waste.


The fees only apply to development in areas where the LCRA doesn’t have an inter-local agreement with a municipality. They are effective immediately.

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