City, county reach agreement

Building department compromise likely will mean higher fees

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By the numbers

Building-permit fee comparison for a 3,000-square-foot residential dwelling*

Vail, $7,170

Eagle County, $4,835

Eagle, $3,680

Winter Park, $3,811

Telluride, $11,194

Mountain Village, $7,300

Aspen, $10,055

Pitkin County, $7,152

Summit County, $6,119

Silverthorne, $3,793

Breckenridge, $5,298

Routt County, $3,077

*Comparison dated April 19, 2007

Source: City of Steamboat Springs

After months of counseling, officials have fashioned an agreement that may save the marriage of the city of Steamboat Springs and the Routt County Regional Building Department.

A new intergovernmental agreement between the city and county, which likely will mean increased building permit fees for construction within city limits, would take effect Jan. 1 and end a 14-month saga on an issue that proved surprisingly volatile politically. The agreement, which is in a final draft form, still requires approval by the Steamboat Springs City Council and Routt County Board of Commissioners.

Citing myriad concerns, a previous Steamboat Springs City Council signaled in July 2007 its intention to leave the Routt County Regional Building Department in favor of an outside contractor. City staff members had hoped to leave the county department for years, but the move drew the immediate ire of the local construction trades and sparked concerns about the duplication of government services.

The planned termination of the agreement was the subject of several tense public meetings that culminated in a Jan. 15 joint meeting between county commissioners and a newly seated Steamboat Springs City Council. With five new faces, council members reversed the course of their predecessors, extended the scheduled termination, and, with their Routt County counterparts, appointed a committee of city and county staff to come up with a revised agreement within 30 days.

Negotiations ultimately took more than seven months and resulted in an agreement that County Manager Tom Sullivan described as "a good example of collaboration."

"We believe it's in an acceptable form to both the city and the county," County Commissioner Doug Monger said Monday. "We're happy that we've been able to work it out. I think it's a good compromise."

One sticking point in the negotiations was the city's insistence that the Building Department collect city-specific fees that would be remitted to the city and cover the costs city departments incur in reviewing building permits.

"The big picture is : we wanted the department to be revenue neutral to the city," City Council President Loui Antonucci said Monday. "The regular taxpayers were basically subsidizing that."

Steamboat Springs Assistant Finance Director Bob Litzau said departments are calculating their costs, and the city does not have an estimate of how much money it has been losing by not receiving any fees beyond its building use and excise taxes.

Acting City Manager Wendy DuBord said the departments' calculations will determine the additional fees that will be charged for construction within city limits. DuBord said it's safe to say the new fees "probably will" mean higher building permit fees overall, but she also noted that Routt County's building permit fees are "among the lowest in the state and far, far lower than any resort community."

The draft agreement states that the "community development fee" will be "simple to calculate and reasonably (reflect) all of the costs and expenses incurred by the city."

"In the past, we never got any building department fees," DuBord said Monday. "Right now, they collect all these fees, and nothing comes to the city, which isn't a good way of doing business : which means the general fund is subsidizing that activity."

City negotiators also insisted that the county establish a separate enterprise fund for the Building Department that would be managed separate from the county's general fund. DuBord said this would help address issues such as the county's controversial transfer last year of $1.4 million from the Building Department budget to its general fund. County officials said the move reimbursed the county for the many years the Building Department operated at a loss, but city officials saw the move as inappropriate because most of the Building Department's fees are generated from building permits issued within city limits.

"An enterprise fund means the fees and revenues you collect are specific to run that department," DuBord said.

Sullivan said the county opposed the creation of a separate enterprise fund and was advised against it by their auditor. But, noting concessions made by the city as well, Sullivan said, "We're going to do it anyway."

The new agreement would abolish the Building Department's advisory users board - which included representation from the local construction trades - and replace it with an oversight committee, a provision of the agreement that appears to address a concern presented in a memo from former City Manager Alan Lanning that called for joint supervision of the county's chief building official, Carl Dunham. According to the agreement, the committee would meet at least every three months and include one or two members of council, a county commissioner, the city manager and the county manager. Other city and county officials would serve as nonvoting members of the committee.

Monger said local contractors still will have an opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns.

"We're not trying to eliminate our direct communication link," he said.

Possible fee increases aside, County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said the new agreement will mean little for building department users.

"They won't notice anything," she said Monday. "That's the good thing about it."

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