Council may raise planning fees

By Reggie Ellis

A study discussed during a public hearing at the May 11 Exeter City Council meeting may help explain the city's recent rapid growth. While much of Exeter's popularity can be blamed on its alluring small town charm, it seems that low city planning fees may also have contributed to the housing development boom.

The study, conducted by the City of Lindsay, surveyed development impact fees in 28 cities in Kings, Tulare, Kern and Fresno counties. Development impact fees are designed to cover the costs for city staff to process permits for new developments. City Planner Greg Collins said it currently costs the city $1,329 to process an annexation request yet Exeter only charges the developer $750.

Collins used the study to illustrate how all of Exeter's development impact fees were either non-existent or below what other Central Valley cities charge. For example, the median fees for ag preservation zoning cancellation, mitigating negative declaration and precise planning were $275, $525 and $1,380 respectively. Exeter did not charge a fee for any of them. Out of a total of 51 fee categories, Exeter only charged more than the median in two categories -- lot line adjustment ($300) and planned unit development ($1,000).

Collins said Exeter's fees have not been updated since sometime in the early 1990s.

"We aren't recovering even our costs," Collins said.

Another survey, conducted by the Building Industry Association of Tulare and Kings counties, compared Exeter's fee per housing unit to cities of similar size in the immediate area. Exeter still came up short. Exeter's cost per unit for building permit, school, processing, development impact and inspection fees was $7,235, trailing Dinuba ($14,411), Woodlake ($7,838), Farmersville ($7,668) and Lindsay ($7,336).

Collins said the fees not only cover the cost of processing permits but also finance future public improvements, such as construction of public facilities, traffic signals, railroad crossings and landscaped medians and roundabouts listed in the General Plan.

Collins proposed raising fees by an average of 50 percent across the board. Where some fees were not charged a modest $25 or $50 fee would be instituted. Other fees, such as processing zoning ordinance amendments, will increase from $150 to $1,075. Development agreements will increase from $300 to $1,300.

The council is scheduled to vote on the increase at the next meeting on Tuesday, May 25. The Exeter City Council meets at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month in council chambers at city hall, located at 137 N. F St.

In other news:

  • Dennis Dismuke, a member of the Exeter Senior Center board of directors, asked the council during the public comment period if it would apply for a grant on behalf of the center. Dismuke said the Tule River Indian Tribe has appointed a committee to allocate $410,000 throughout Tulare County. Applications will be based on how Indian gaming has impacted the community. The deadline for applications is May 24 and, if selected, the money would be received on June 30.

  • Exeter Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Joe Engelbrecht requested that the council increase its funding of the club. Engelbrecht said more money is needed to meet the demands of the club's increasing membership. Membership has increased by 26 percent from 2002 and 13 percent since May 1 of last year. Mayor Leon Ooley asked if the skatepark was being used. Engelbrecht said the area was being utilized mainly for other activities because many of the skateboarders are refusing to wear safety equipment. Engelbrecht said it has been a challenge finding someone to work just two hours each afternoon to supervise the skatepark, but that they would be expanding the position to work inside as well. Engelbrecht said being able to offer someone more hours makes the position more attractive and easier to find help.

  • Eirleen Nelson approached the Exeter City Council about constructing an arbor at City Park. Nelson said the park lacked shade after the city was forced to cut down a diseased tree. She was referring to a 80-90 foot tall deador pine that had stood at the park for more than 50 years. The city cut down the tree in August 2003 because it was leaning to one side causing a safety hazard. Nelson said many events are held near the gazebo in City Park and that more shade is needed. She said she would like the project completed before the Fourth of July celebration at City Park. Nelson said the architect estimated the project would cost $3,000. Public Works Director Felix Ortiz said the city would build the 36-by-20 foot arbor using as much volunteer labor as possible.

  • City Planner Greg Collins suggested a landscaped median on Palm Street to help slow truck traffic down, bulb outs at major intersections and other street improvements. Bulb outs are where streets narrow at intersections to slow down traffic and promote walking by creating shorter distances for pedestrians to cross traffic.

  • Public Works Director Felix Ortiz said work on Dobson Field would resume once Rainscape had submitted plans to install the sprinkler system.

  • Public Works Director Felix Ortiz recommended allowing the Exeter Ambulance District to purchase fuel from the City of Exeter but not allowing the district the services of the city's mechanic. The district currently uses 400 gallons of diesel fuel a month in its fleet of two 1998 International ambulances and 1995 and 1997 Ford ambulances. Ortiz said the city would just refill the fuel tanks more often and bill the ambulance district monthly.

    However, Ortiz said he took issue with allowing the city mechanic to work on district vehicles for several reasons. Ortiz said the mechanic is already busy keeping the city's fleet of vehicles running and it could create a liability issue if the mechanic was hurt while working on or test driving the ambulances.

    City Administrator and Exeter Ambulance Board President John Kunkel requested the fuel and use of the mechanic in a letter at the April 27 council meeting. Kunkel directed Ortiz to look into and recused himself from the discussion due to a conflict of interest. Kunkel, also Exeter's chief of police, told the council that the ambulance could contact an on-duty officer if they needed to fill up at City Yard after hours.

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