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.
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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.