Napa County is updating its fees for services, which among other things means that the cost to appeal a Planning Commission decision to the Board of Supervisors is rising from $416 to $1,000.
And the cost to obtain a confidential marriage license – one that can’t be accessed by the general public – is rising from $84 to $95. The cost for a public marriage license will remain at $83.
Those are only some of the fee-for-services increases approved by county supervisors on July 31 that should in total bring in an extra $2.4 million annually to county coffers. County officials said they aren’t trying to create cash cows.
“When we talk about all these fees, 100 percent of them are cost recovery,” County Executive Officer Minh Tran said. “It’s expenditure from the county.”
Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison made a similar point for his department.
“We’re prohibited from making a profit,” Morrison said. “We’re not looking at making a profit.”
The focus was on planning and building fees. For example, there is that fee to file a Planning Commission decision appeal that as of Oct. 1 will be $1,000. In addition, the project applicant will pay for additional planning staff time until the appeal is decided or withdrawn.
“I know it can be sensitive about what that number is, so it’s not a burden for somebody to actually file an appeal,” Planning Manager Vincent Smith said.
Napa County officials said the appeal fee in Sonoma County is $1,164 and in Marin County is $1,285. In addition, the Napa Valley Register found the Contra Costa County appeal fee is $125, Solano County $150, Calistoga $200, Alameda County $250, the city of Napa $438, San Francisco $600, San Mateo County $616 and Yolo County $941.
The county also is raising the rate for planning staff time charged to applicants seeking to do projects in the unincorporated county, such as building a new winery. The goal for the Planning Division is to recover 80 percent of user fee service costs, as opposed to the present 46 percent.
Supervisor Belia Ramos wondered why only 80 percent. Other county officials recalled fees were lowered during the Great Recession economic climate that no longer applies.
“If someone is building a project and needs it reviewed, the county should have a 20 percent investment on the fees?” Ramos asked.
Supervisors at a future meeting will discuss whether Planning Division cost recovery should be more than 80 percent. They will also discuss an automatic inflation increase.
But supervisors don’t want to go too far. Morrison said some people come to the Planning Division wanting to know if their land is suitable for a winery. Some jurisdictions have planning staff answering questions for free for 15 minutes, then starting to bill.
Morrison wasn’t making a recommendation. Napa County isn’t ready to start a timer on such conversations.
“We do have to provide a high level of customer service,” Ramos said.
Given several years have passed since the county last raised these fees, supervisors were wary about trying to go beyond the immediate staff recommendations. They acknowledged playing catch-up on fees, while overdue, can be painful to county customers.
“We have to do this in increments,” Supervisor Diane Dillon said.
On July 31, the county got off to a start.
“I get that there’s heartburn, there will be heartburn,” Ramos said. “If we put this off, it’s just going to hurt more down the road … it will be a bigger pill to swallow.”