A lot has changed in Yankton County since Feb. 2, 2004.
Drivers still used the then 80-year-old Meridian Bridge to traverse the Missouri River between Yankton and Nebraska. Numerous businesses have come to the area and expanded in that time. The national economy suffered a major recession and subsequently recovered.
But one thing has remained the same — on that date, Yankton County adopted a new set of planning & zoning fees, and they have remained unchanged since.
That is until this coming Sunday (Sept. 1) when a new fee schedule, approved by the Yankton County Commission during its Aug. 6 meeting, officially goes into effect.
Commission chairman Dan Klimisch told the Press & Dakotan that the road to a new fee schedule started with the board’s decision to record each and every meeting.
"There’s a cost associated with that," Klimisch said. "It’s about $150 for a zoning and planning meeting and I think it’s $250 for a commission meeting. While we were doing that, we were trying to compile how much it actually costs to do a zoning and planning meeting. There’s obviously the cost of the recordings and there’s a cost of about $225 to pay each planning commission member."
He noted that each planning commission member can be paid $25 per meeting, but many commissioners do not take the compensation.
Klimisch said additional research was done on the cost of doing business in other facets of the office, be it researching information for a building permit or a conditional use permit.
"We discussed that as the Planning Commission and, unanimously, everyone on the Planning Commission back in June or May said, ‘We really need to look at raising our fees not to generate income, but just to cover the cost of what a meeting is,’" he said. "If someone comes in for a deck, for example, under the old schedule, if it was $1,000 or less, we would issue them a permit and charge them $10. But if you look at the costs associated with generating that building permit, the time and the research, it was costing us at the county more than $10 to do that, so we were actually losing money issuing the permit for things like that."
The new fee schedule for building permits is as follows:
• Value to $1,000: $50 (Old: $10).
• $1,000 and above: $40 plus $5 per $1,000 in valuation. Under the old system, there were staggered permit fees up to $300,000 which had a $100 permit plus $1 per $1,000 over $300,001.
• A post-construction fee of $500 (Old: $100).
Additionally, miscellaneous fees have also risen:
• Variance: $450 (Old: $100)
• Conditional Use Permit: $300 (Old: $100)
• Rezone/Amendment: $450 (Old: $150)
• Special Meeting: $750 (Old: $350)
• Plat Proposal: $100 (Old: $30)
The commission also scheduled two new miscellaneous fees:
• Right-of-Way: $150
• Entrance Application: $150
Klimisch said the county looked into what others in the region are doing for their fee schedules.
"We researched a lot of the adjacent counties with Clay and Bon Homme," he said. "When I talked to all of the zoning people, they said, ‘Our fees are way too low and we need to raise them.’"
With its last update being in 2012, Clay County’s current fee schedule is:
• Up to $1,000: $25
• $500,000 and up: $525
However, Yankton County’s new fee schedule is being met with some concern.
Yankton Area Progressive Growth (YAPG) CEO Nancy Wenande told the Press & Dakotan that the amount the fee schedule was raised came as a surprise.
"I was surprised to see that there was such a dramatic increase from the rates that were previously set to what they’re going to be on Sept. 1," Wenande said. "It’s between a 300-500% increase on a lot of these prices, which seems a bit steep for one singular increase."
Having served on the Yankton City Commission, Wenande said she’s aware of the need to adjust fee schedules as the county’s situation changes.
"Since these fees have not been increased since 2004, I can see that there was a need for an increase," she said. "But I feel that with such a significant increase, it’s making it cost-prohibitive. I do think they could’ve had a stepped-up process to get to where they need to be, or provide an opportunity for more public input before those rates were set and brought before the commission."
Klimisch said that a new piece of technology made it difficult to stagger the fees.
"We are the first county in the state working on online software for permitting," he said. "We had to calculate a fee structure that could be incorporated into that software system. Originally, we were going to have a fee structure that was more similar to the one that we had — originally we discussed a $50 per $1,000 up to $100,000 and then it was going to be a $100 fee, but when we started talking to the people who were going to build that into the program, that would make it more cumbersome."
Wenande said YAPG has received feedback from concerned developers throughout the county.
"I have had comments from a couple of industry leaders who are looking to do development in Yankton County that say the cost of these fees are excessive," she said.
She added that there wasn’t any direct outreach from county officials about how the new fee schedule would be structured.
"No one reached out to me prior to this or alerted us that the fee increase was going to be so significant," she said.
Klimisch said there was ample time for feedback over the spring and summer.
"We talked about this for 2 1/2 months at four different County Commission meetings and a Planning Commission meeting, and not one person mentioned that that was too high," he said. "I’ve had a lot of input that our fees are too low."
Wenande said she could see the changes having a huge impact on the county’s ability to attract new businesses or expand existing operations.
"For large industrial use, the way the fee schedule is set could definitely be prohibitive to industry wanting to locate in Yankton County," she said. "The increase of $5 per $1,000 in valuation on the fee is really excessive for an extremely large industrial user."
She said there are options to remedy any potential adverse impacts.
"If the commission is willing to create a waiver or a decreased fee depending upon the size of the entity, I would encourage them to consider that option," she said. "There are some large users that would probably not be interested in locating in Yankton County based upon the cost of that fee."
Klimisch said that it’s hard to fathom larger developments not being able to cover permitting fees.
"If somebody’s building a $100,000 house, I would think they could afford the $550 for a permit to do that," he said. "What we’re trying to do is have some of the fees that we charge simply pay for the services that we’re providing."
He added that he doesn’t see the new fee schedule being an inhibitor of development.
"With a $200,000 facility, is $1,000 going to make or break it?" he said. "I really don’t think so."
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