El Paso County’s new land-development review process division received approval last week to adopt a new surcharge. The El Paso County Commissioners also supported creating a new fund to finance the new division. The El Paso County Commissioners approved a $15 surcharge on all new land-development applications and permits. This fee will reimburse a $500,000 loan to the Planning Departments the commissioners approved last December and borrowed from general funds.

Most of the loan will pay for information technology for the subdivision-development review process, said Imad Karaki, project manager. His ultimate goal would allow customers to submit applications in digital form, log onto the Internet to check the progress of projects, and communicate with planners and engineers more easily. He would also like to eliminate the numerous boxes of paperwork. He is forming a team to determine the planning and transportation departments’ needs and develop the required technology.

A smaller portion of the loan would pay for computers, phones and temporary help.

The surcharge would apply to permits issued by the El Paso County Planning Department, Department of Transportation, the Department of Health and Environment, and the Regional Building Department. Driveway access, installation of new septic systems, new drainage, and new roads and utilities are some of the projects that would require such a user fee.

The Planning Department has been operating under a fiscal shortfall, drawing money from general funds to cover expenses. Ken Rowberg, Planning Department director, said that all application and permit fees will increase to cover the deficit.

“We’re talking significant increases,” said Rowberg.

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After consulting with builders and developers for the past 18 months, all parties agreed that fee increases would be presented to the county commissioners but assurances were needed that all money would be directed back into the process.

The planning and transportation departments collect $35,000 each year in application and permit fees. The Planning Department’s budget for 2001 is $1 million. Sixty percent of the budget goes toward land-development review, a division of the Planning Department. Another $500,000 to $600,000 is funneled from the Transportation Department’s budget into the land-review process. It takes about $1.2 million for the land-development review department to operate. By raising application and permit fees, neither department will have to funnel money to the land-review division, and will be able to operate independently.

The newly formed Land Development Review Process will be a combination of the land development side of the Planning Department and the engineering side of the Department of Transportation. Rowberg’s goal is to make this new department financially self-sufficient.

A cost-of-service study recommended that a three-year gradual phase-in of these higher fees take place. Application and permit fees haven’t increased since 1988, said Rowberg. The county commissioners plan to address the subject of fee increases on March 15.

A Special Review Fund is being established as a separate coffer from the General Fund and will be used exclusively to stockpile collected user fees and application and permit fees. In the past, application and permit fees have gone into the General Funds. All application fees, permit fees and user fees will fully fund the land-development review process. The new fund will also pay for the addition of six new employees, said Rowberg. These employees will handle the increased work load. Rowberg expects the first new hire to work in the accounting division.

Rowberg and Chief Financial Officer Karen Montgomery targeted five years as the timetable to pay back the $500,000 to the General Fund from the SRF with no more than $100,000 each year. As the CSBJ went to press, it was expected that the SRF would get its seal of approval on Thursday from the county commissioners.