Editorial: Bend should fix misuse of planning fees

Published May 29, 2014 at 12:01AM

The city of Bend is considering a proposal to correct a misuse of its planning fees. It’s the right thing to do.

Fees paid to governments are designed to pay for a specific service provided to the person or business paying the fee. That’s different from taxes, which provide general support to the government for a variety of purposes that benefit the community as a whole. If fees are enlarged to cover other general expenses, that’s an abuse of the fee structure.

The problem in Bend seems to have developed innocently enough. The Community Development Department is supported by fees charged to developers and others who need to meet land use and building laws and regulations. Employees who staff the counter help those fee-paying clients, but they also answer related questions from the general public.

For example, if you are considering buying a property, you can get help to determine what could legally happen on adjoining property. Or if you are concerned about a development proposed near your home, you can find out what laws and rules apply to help determine how to respond. You wouldn’t pay for that help, either through a fee or through your taxes, because it is rolled into the overall costs of the department and paid for by those who do pay planning fees.

Bend city staff has estimated that planning fees are now paying for approximately $200,000 worth of such expenses each year. They have proposed that amount be shifted to the general fund, supported by taxes. A re-evaluation of existing planning fees would follow.

City councilors have discussed what other need could be satisfied with that $200,000, an understandable reaction, as the city faces innumerable demands on its limited funds. More satisfying ways to spend those dollars abound.

But in the end, that question is all but irrelevant, because the misuse of the fee structure must be corrected. If it’s not, hiking fees to cover nonfee-related costs becomes an improper avenue to raise revenue.