With 2023/24 fiscal year starting this Saturday, the Board of Josephine County Commissioners held a public hearing pertaining to fee increases at their June 21 weekly business session, held at Anne G. Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass.
“During the budget process we were really conserving General Fund dollars as much as we could,” explained JoCo Finance Director Sandy Novak. “So anything that benefits an individual citizen we looked at, ‘Are the fees that we’re charging covering the expenses?’ so we have multiple departments here who are looking to increase fees to cover those costs and those department heads are here if there’s any specific questions.”
Between inflation and the need to slash costs in order to parcel a large portion of the General Fund to the sheriff for patrol, virtually all county departments that have fees are seeing them raised to a certain degree.
These departments include: Clerk’s Office; Community Corrections; Sheriff’s Office; Public Health; Surveyor’s Office; and Community Development, AKA Planning.
First to present was Public Health Director Michael Weber.
“The primary focus for our fee increase is for environmental health. I don’t believe we’ve had an increase for environmental health since 2014,” Weber explained.
He added that some of the environmental health services his department offers include restaurant inspections, water inspections and “ancillary services like air quality inspections and things like that.”
Deputy Community Corrections Director Scott Hyde said his department sought a $5 increase for their electronic monitoring program, which outfits offenders with ankle bracelets to ensure they don’t violate the terms of their parole or probation.
“The cost of the program has gone up, just the technology associated with it,” said Hyde. He called the program an “enormous cost savings” to the county, with an estimated $500,000 saved per year over the last few years due to jail beds being freed up.
Hyde advised that it’s difficult to nail down the exact cost of running the monitoring program, as the amount of offenders utilizing it varies from month to month, but the cost estimate they generated was $93,500 to run the program. The fees previously yielded $75,000 for the program, but will nearly meet the full cost with $92,500 after the increase.
The cost of the program may continue to increase, as Hyde noted there has been an uptick in utilization of electronic monitoring since Measure 112, related to prohibiting indentured servitude, was approved by voters last year.
For the Surveyor’s Office, map filing fees, plat checking and review fees are all going up for the first time in a while. It was noted that the Surveyor’s Office had also previously eliminated a part-time position and reduced the hours of a full-time employee to offset costs.
Novak said the county clerk is increasing four different rates and adding a $10 notary fee. The sheriff is also implementing this new $10 notary fee. Commissioner Dan DeYoung said he thought the notary fee would be $15, but Novak clarified that $10 is the maximum fee amount by statute.
The finance director also clarified that fees can never be charged by counties as “money makers” to turn a profit; they can only be imposed to cover the cost of the service being rendered.
Community Development Director Mark Stevenson shook things up by approaching the dais and saying he was proposing a fee decrease, rather than increase.
“We’ve had conversations about dropping our minor development permit fees down,” said Stevenson. “The current fee right now is $150. This includes things like structures under 200 square feet, propane tanks, water tanks, electrical services on non-developed properties, fences over seven feet, retaining walls over four feet, signs and in-ground pools. The cost of service right now, it runs us $240 to process a minor development permit. The current fee is $150. We’re proposing that fee drop to $50 as a convenience to our customers.”
The community development director advised the loss in revenue from this 66% fee reduction would be approximately $14,000. To offset this loss, his department was proposing the increase of the single-family dwelling development permit fee from $300 to $380.
DeYoung expressed his support for lowering the fee for minor development permits by $100, an effort spearheaded by Commissioner John West, remarking, “$150 for a well house, that didn’t sit well with a bunch of people and then if you were to really start enforcing that on everyone it would have just been over the top.”
The commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the fee adjustments for all of the aforementioned departments. They are set to go into effect Aug. 1.
Later in the meeting, Board Chair Herman Baertschiger gave a brief update on the county’s plans for the Flying Lark entertainment venue, which was gifted to the county by Dutch Bros co-founder Travis Boersma after the state rejected his proposal for legacy horse race gambling to take place at the Flying Lark.
“We’re still in negotiations with several individuals on that property,” Baertschiger said. “So we’re not ready to approve that at this time.”
An approval of property proposal had been on the board’s agenda, but it was postponed, with Baertschiger saying it wasn’t yet ready for “prime time.”