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FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County planning fees will increase by early November, justices of the peace decided Thursday.

"These fees are badly needed to help cover expenses for the ongoing process of development at the planning office," said Justice of the Peace Butch Pond, a Republican representing eastern Washington County. "I am for this increase -- to put it back on the developer as opposed to the citizens of Washington County."

At a glance

Planning fees will go up this year and, likely, will double revenue for the Washington County Planning Department. The fees should bring in about $23,000 next year.

Source: Washington County

Crisis stabilization units

Arkansas legislators earlier this year approved three crisis centers to be alternatives for people experiencing immediate mental health issues who encounter police and might otherwise be taken to jail. The four units are set to be in:

• Craighead County

• Pulaski County

• Sebastian County

• Washington County

Source: Staff report

The move to increase planning fees comes as the county considers how to wrestle with a $67.7 million budget that spends more than revenue coming in, records show. The gap between revenue and spending is expected to be about $5 million for next year.

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The Planning Department's fees directly affect contractors and property owners who want to split a lot, get a variance or request a permit, records show. The increase doesn't affect taxpayers directly.

The fee increase will basically double revenue, bringing in about $23,000, for the Planning Department's operations, Director Jim Kimbrough said Thursday. The operating budget for the office is about $83,000, he said.

The new fee moves the county more in line with what other similar governments charge, Kimbrough said. Benton County's fees often are hundreds of dollars more than those in Washington County, according to documents from both counties.

Kimbrough requested the fee increase in July. The ordinance passed at the committee level but stalled without getting a final reading during last month's Quorum Court. Some justices of the peace said at the time they wanted to give the public more time for input.

No one from the public commented Thursday. The measure passed with little comment during the Quorum Court meeting.

The changes include increasing the cost for a final plat with 50 lots or fewer to $500, up from $100. An application for exempt land divisions will be $50 in a city planning, up from $15.

Those increases won't stop people from building in Washington County, said Justice of the Peace Daniel Balls, a Democrat representing northern Fayetteville. The new fees are fair, similar to nearby markets and bring in more revenue, he said.

"Why wouldn't you do it?" Balls said about raising the fees.

In other business, the Quorum Court approved revising an ordinance for an attorney position handling Family In Need of Services Cases. They updated the position's title, changed the number of members on an advisory committee helping select applicants and put the position under the supervision of the county judge.

The Quorum Court also approved allowing County Judge Joseph Wood to sign a letter for a study on developing a program to finance land conservation. The group also approved creating the Washington County Criminal Justice Coordinating Board.

The board, which will have 15 members appointed by the county judge, is a state requirement for setting up a crisis stabilization unit. The state has set aside $1.4 million for the project in Northwest Arkansas.

The stabilization units are meant to treat people in mental health crisis instead of sending them to jails. The unit in Northwest Arkansas will serve Washington, Madison, Benton and Carroll counties.

The governor also has approved money for another three units in different Arkansas regions.

NW News on 09/22/2017

Print Headline: Quorum Court approves raising planning fees

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