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Berkeley County looking at planning process fee hikes

March 29, 2001|By BOB PARTLOW

Berkeley County looking at planning process fee hikes



MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - With the support of some developers, the Berkeley County commissioners are considering raising the costs of fees to oversee and process development plans.

The commissioners Thursday reviewed a letter from two developers seeking an increase of $45 per lot in each subdivision plan to be earmarked to pay for an assistant county engineer. The county now has one.

Commission President Howard Strauss said he will start the process on that fee increase at the April 2 meeting of the Berkeley County Planning Commission, which must recommend any increases to the three county commissioners. He also will propose other fee increases at that time, he said.

"This opens the door for us looking at other fees" to increase, Strauss said. During his 2000 campaign, Strauss said he believed Berkeley County's planning and engineering fees were too low, a statement he reinforced Thursday.

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The county charges $300 as a basic fee to process a subdivision request, plus $195 per lot, $45 of which goes to engineering review. Developers urged another $45 be charged on top of that to pay for a plan reviewer.

"A plan reviewer would insure that the review process could proceed without delays currently created when staff is busy handling other duties," wrote Bill Newbraugh, of Newbraugh Development Co. Inc., and Allen Henry, president of Panhandle Builders and Excavating.

The additional $45 "should be adequate to cover the cost of an additional staff person," they wrote. At the meeting, Newbraugh said processing 1,000 lots with the additional $45 would raise enough money take care of the problem.

Strauss said the situation could be mutually beneficial, especially given the huge increase in population. New census figures showed a 28.1 percent increase in county residents to 75,905 in the past 10 years.

"We need to provide another assistant engineer," he said. "This will help the developers. And the developers are willing to pay for it."

Strauss said he believes the Planning Department should be self-sustaining through fees. That's why fees need to be increased, he said.

Developers should pay for the costs of development, he said.

Commissioner Robert Burkhart said the county should continue to support the planning and engineering functions through the general budget. He said the taxpayers will pay regardless of whether homeowners bear the increases in the cost of new homes or whether they pay for development services through the county budget.

"Most everything winds up in the hands of the consumers," he said. "It will affect the homeowner one way or the other."

The next meeting of the Planning Commission is April 2 at 7 p.m. at 119 W. King St.

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