County fees going… down?

Major reductions in three San Juan County building and land use fees are on the Sept. 10 county council public hearing and action agenda.

The building permit code determination appeal fee and the administrative determination appeal fee are being reduced from $2,300 to $600; the open space current-use assessment reduction application fee is being cut in half, from $4,060 to $2,030.

The code and administrative determination fees are assessed against a property owner or an intervenor who appeals a determination by the county’s  Department of Community Development and Planning that a permit should or should not be issued.

The appeals are heard by the county hearings examiner.

The appeal fee reductions are accompanied by a new provision, required by a recent court case, that removes all fees for appeals of a notice of violation, stop work order, or suspension or revocation of a permit. Under current law, if the property owner or intervenor prevails, the appeal fees are refunded.

The current-use assessment reduction application fee is charged when a property owner applies to the county for an open space property tax assessment based on “current use” valuation rather that the standard “highest and best use” that normally applies. Both the current use and the similar designated forest land programs were started 30 years ago in accordance with state laws intended to encourage property owners to keep property undeveloped or in use as a farm or as timberland.

According to county Assessor Charles Zalmanek, there are 685 parcels of property in the county which benefit from the current-use program and an additional 486 parcels in the similar designated forestland program.

The total number of acres in all county special assessment programs is about 31,900 acres, which represents 29 percent of the county’s total 110,198 acres.

With tax exempt acres such as parks and other public lands added in, almost 50 percent of properties in the county are either not taxed at all or receive current use assessment benefits.

Zalmanek pointed out that property tax exemptions and reductions mean that other property owners’ tax valuations are increased to make up for those reduced valuations.

In addition to the open space assessment reduction, the county also has current use assessment reduction fees for agriculture and farm use and a separate program for timber land.

The fees for these applications are now $250 and $3,150, respectively, and are not being changed.

Councilman Rick Hughes proposed the fee reductions after investigating complaints from property owners. Hughes also intends to simplify all the building codes and regulations, which will take substantially longer to prepare and enact.


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