Businesses concerned about new city planning fees

The local business community is grumbling again and this time it’s about a proposed new fee structure that could multiply costs for a slew of city services if it goes through.

“We need to be incentivizing doing business in Revelstoke. By increasing these fees so much that’s not going to happen,” said John Devitt, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. “It’s going to do the reverse.”

The Times Review first reported on the new fees on Dec. 15, after they were introduced in a report to council. The cost recovery report calls for a complete restructuring of the planning, building, fire and business license fees the city charges. The report calls for fees to increase for most services so the city can recoup the costs of providing those services.

According to the report, written by Vancouver-based consultant James Pammenter, current rates only cover 20 per cent of the cost of delivering services to developers and other users.

The proposed fee hikes include raising the cost of a zoning bylaw amendment to $2,600 plus advertising from $750 including advertising; a liquor license application would jump to $400 from $50; and a sign pointing to a tourist attraction would cost $300 instead of $50. Fees for sub-division applications, development variance permits, fire inspections and many more services would also go up.

The complaints over the proposed new fees are the latest sore spot between the Chamber and City Hall following the ongoing commercial property tax debate.

“It just seems counter-productive, that businesses are struggling, they’re asking for a reduction in their taxes. The frustration is they see this as six of one, half-dozen of the other – it’s actually not doing anything to help them,” said Devitt.

The new fees are designed to cover the costs of delivering the services but Devitt criticized the report for not looking into how to deliver services more efficiently.

“If it’s a matter of recovering your costs, what are you doing to make your costs lower?” he asked.

In fact, the report looks at establishing a “one stop shop” for city permits, licensing and inspection activities though it recommends putting it off and implementing permits and license software to help coordinate tasks between departments instead.

Joe Verbalis, a real estate broker and member of the city’s economic development commission and advisory planning commission, agreed with the principal of a pay-as-you-go system.

“I know a lot of people balked at the charges themselves but in principle the pay-as-you-go concept is a fair one. It also remediates pressure on the taxpayer,” he said in an interview. “I think people in a developing community understand it’s their responsibility. They believe in free markets and in free markets the individual capitalizes their own venture and they realize either a profit or loss on that venture based on the decisions in that venture.”

However, he said because of some of the big jumps in fees, they should be phased in over a number of years to reduce the shock and allow people to adjust their business models. He also added the city should be willing to waive charges if a developer can prove their project will have a lasting, positive impact on the city.

John Guenther, the city’s director of planning, could not be reached for comment.

“If we’re delivering a service, we should be charging for it,” Guenther told council when the report was introduced on Dec. 7.

A bylaw that would officially change the new fee structure is schedule to go before council when they sit as the Committee of the Whole this Tuesday, Feb. 1.