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Commission considers lower filing fees


   A second draft of an ordinance outlining the procedure for submitting a Measure 37 claim will be used as a guideline until approval of a final ordinance, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners decided Dec. 22.
   The meeting marked the third time the commission has considered how to deal with Measure 37 at the county level. Ballot Measure 37 was passed by voters Nov. 2, and mandates that state and local governments either compensate property owners when a regulation lowers property value, or waive the regulation -- provided that property owners can prove that the property in question was owned before the regulation took effect.
   County Counsel Jacki Haggerty suggested that the county focus on the waiver portion of the measure, since the county doesn't have the money to pay claims.
   The proposed ordinance states, "Jefferson County has insufficient funds available to pay any compensation claims, and therefore declines to allocate any funds for this purpose. For this reason, the Board of Commissioners will only consider Ballot Measure 37 claims which are requests for waiver or modification of land-use regulations."
   In order to determine whether or not a property owner has a valid claim, Haggerty recommended a conference with a planner from the Jefferson County Community Development Department (JCCDD). Such a review would cost $100.
   JCCDD Director Chris Gannon proposed a fee of $250 to apply for a waiver to build a single-family home, or a fee of $500 to apply for larger developments. There would be a $1,000 fee for compensation claims, instead of requiring a deposit against actual costs as the commission considered at its last meeting.
   "It sounds like we're getting to a much more user-friendly process," said Commissioner Mary Zemke.
   Esther Young, asked the commission what happens if property that has been in a family for many years changes hands. The applicable condition in the proposed ordinance states, "A decision to waive or modify a land-use regulation shall not `run with the land,' or be transferable to a different property or a different owner."
   Haggerty commented, "This is an area that's not clear. The Legislature may clarify it; the courts may clarify it."
   Typically, if a waiver is granted, and a dwelling is built, she continued, it would be a nonconforming use, but it is not clear what would happen if ownership was transferred.
   Bob Tate, who accompanied Young, summed up the condition, "So, at this point, as long as it stays in the family, you can do what you want, but once it leaves the family, it's a different story."
   Tate also enquired about fees charged by the different departments.
   Haggerty replied that a separate county ordinance dictates that departments charge fees to cover staff time.
   "As a city or a county, I think we're `fee'd to death," Tate said. "Where does it stop? Maybe there could be a cap on fees."
   Zemke pointed out that a department might need to spend a considerable amount of time on research. "In some of our land-use cases, we're talking a stack of papers this tall," she said, raising her hand a foot above the table.
   Mickey Killingsworth, a member of the Jefferson County Farm Bureau, agreed, "The reality is fees have to be paid. They have to pay for that financial benefit."
   Because of tight budgets, Commissioner Walt Ponsford explained that the county must also rely on fees. "A huge portion of monies in order to run the county comes from fees, services, etc."
   After taking comments from other citizens, the commission adopted the new draft and fees as a guideline until an ordinance can be finalized.
   The proposed ordinance will be on the agenda for the commission's next meeting on Jan. 5.