The Casper City Council gave informal approval to raising building permit fees and planning and engineering fees during its work session Tuesday.

Mayor Kenyne Humphrey said the changes are long overdue.

"There was pretty strong majority to move that forward since there haven't been increases since 1979," Humphrey said. "The council is looking forward with an approximately 40 percent increase in some of the building department fees."

The proposals from City Manager Carter Napier to raise building and planning and engineering fees outlined the financial problems facing Casper as a result of the economic downturn, starting with the long reliance on mineral extraction revenues that have subsidized the low fees.

The city has no control over the minerals-based economy, but it does exercise control over what citizens pay for services, Napier wrote in memos to City Development Director Liz Becher.

"The City's challenge is that there are only two (2) options available to balance the budget in lean times, decrease service, and/or increase revenues," wrote Napier, who was hired in part to adjust the budget so the city would not need to borrow from its reserves. "Neither are popular options."

The city has trimmed the budget a lot, and has avoided layoffs, but that can go only so far, he wrote.

On the other hand, Casper residents and builders have coasted for nearly four decades on what are essentially subsidized and flat fees for building permits.

In 1979, the building permit for a $100,000 building was $435. Since 2012, it has been $576.

The Building Division staff looked at eight municpalities in the region, Napier wrote. "Casper enjoys some of the lowest building permit fees around."

Mechanical and plumbing permits also are out of whack with what they should be, he wrote.

For example, the system for calculating those fees is inequitable because the number of plumbing fixtures in a $200,000 home is not significantly different from a $1 million home, so permits are similar in cost. Napier recommended going to a system of charging based on building valuation.

On the other hand, Napier did not recommend increasing contractor licensing fees because the city wants to encourage contractors to be licensed, follow the rules and apply for permits.

Humphrey said if building permits were raised from their current rates to those of cities comparable in size to Casper, the city would raise another $220,000 in revenue.

Likewise, Napier wrote the city has been subsidizing the fees charged for its staff to work on plats for subdivisions, site plans, annexations and other development services.

"Historically, Planning and Engineering fees have not coincided with, or taken into consideration the amount of time and hard costs involved for City staff to review a case, meet with applicants, process the application for the Planning & Zoning Commission and City Council, and to visit and inspect sites," he wrote.

He recommended the city council look at how much the city should subsidize these services from the general fund, and whether the full costs should be borne by the applicants.

The services and their fees needed review are:

  • Preliminary plats, final plats, re-plats and minor boundary adjustments.
  • Surveyor fees.
  • Right of Way vacations.
  • Conditional use permits, zoning amendments, variances and exceptions.
  • Site plans.
  • Planned Unit Developments (PUDs).
  • Annexations.
  • Zoning Research, Verification, and other staff time.
  • Appeals.

The council eventually will recommend changes in fees for formal approval, Humphrey said. "It kind of brings us up with the times."

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