By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- It’s been five years since Derry has updated its planning fee schedule and now staff say fees collected no longer match the costs of project review.
“We looked at our numbers and found the amount we were paying out to consultants was more than we were charging, when in reality it’s supposed to be a wash,” said Derry Planning Director George Sioras. “We found that we were getting close to overspending the last couple years.”
Sioras said planning staff have spent the past few months working closely with the public works and finance departments to look into the town’s own costs and to compare fee structures with other municipalities.
As sizable projects usually pay a proportionately larger fee and employ a team of engineers, Sioras said it was the smaller developments that ended up taking the most staff time.
“Smaller developments come in and hire smaller firms, so sometimes we spend more time on the plan and that’s where we’re taking the hit,” he said.
For example, Derry Planning Assistant Elizabeth Robidoux said that one particular plan has cost the town $2,300 in external review so far, when the applicant paid a fee of $775. In another case, the town spent $1,300 in staff and contracted time to review a project that brought in a similar fee of $775. And while not every project overspends to that extent, Robidoux said it only takes a few costly plans to make a difference.
“It’s a trend that we’re not recovering our costs,” she said. “I’m all for development and I think it’s a good thing for the town, but I also don’t believe that the taxpayers should pay that price. We’re here to serve the community and I think we need to keep that in mind.”
If changes are approved, Robidoux said that developers would be asked to pay separately for a project’s external review at a cost to be determined by the planning department. Under the current system, external review costs are supposed to be covered by the regular application fee.
Under the proposed changes, developers would pay $.15 per square foot of new commercial or industrial construction up to a $10,000 limit, as opposed to the current fee of $350 plus $100 per lot and $500 per acre of disruption.
On projects requiring a legal notice, applicants would pay $50 where no current fee is in place.
Lot line adjustments currently cost $20 per lot or unit, but under the new fee schedule developers would pay $100 per lot.
A full list of the proposed changes is available at the town’s website, www.derry. nh.us.
The Derry Planning Board moved the proposed fee increases to a public hearing to be held on Feb. 16. Sioras said the board will likely make a decision that night, which would go into effect immediately.