How much should Clovis residents pay to maintain the “Clovis Way of Life?”
That is a question Clovis City Councilman Vong Mouanoutoua posed at Monday’s respectful, but slogging debate over how to increase development impact fees.
“How much are you willing to keep it?” Mouanoutoua asked.
The council delayed any decision, needing more time to evaluate options. The 5-0 vote will bring back a new proposal at a time to be announced.
“This is really complicated,” City Manager John Holt said, perhaps uttering the understatement of the night.
When developers build new residential neighborhoods or retail centers, someone has to pay for the infrastructure — streets, sewer pipes, and water lines among other amenities. Traditionally, the city charges the builder, but costs have increased significantly in recent years.
Trails and parks are also paid for by fees, elements of Clovis that make it unique versus its neighbors, the mayor said.
“Do we lower our standards? … Absolutely not,” Mayor Lynne Ashbeck said from the dais. “We can skip all of that. But then what do we become? And we don’t … have to drive very far to see what you’ve become.”
Last year, the city hiked fees but limited them to a 15% increase. Monday, the council discussed a proposal to increase fees by 12% to 23% overall — with one component being a 60% increase in water connection charges.
For a $400,000 home, that could increase the fees builders pay by up to $3,800 per home.
Several called those numbers “unsustainable.”
“There are no entry-level homes being built in Clovis. The price is too high because of all these various factors,” Mike Prandini, president/CEO of the Building Industry Association trade group said. Those factors include interest rates for mortgages.
Prandini proposed a temporary 4.6% increase in fees, based on the construction cost index. Councilman Drew Bessinger said that was too low.
Changing How and Who Pays Fees
Ashbeck said the funding model for building infrastructure needs to change.
“This seems like a moment that we’re at a crossroads,” Ashbeck said from the dais. “We probably cannot fund this city in 25 years by only fees. I just don’t know how that’s possible.”
Several suggestions were made on how to fix the problem: hiring a consultant, conducting workshops, shifting costs for infrastructure from builders, increasing water/sewer rates.
“Nobody said it was easy,” Prandini said.
Not only was the water fee increase an issue, but what part of town should pay for it was a concern of Sayre Miller, a partner with farming operation McFarlane and McFarlane.
“(The council’s) citywide approach to water costs being shared by all three villages, which is Loma Vista, the northwest, and the northeast, is unfair. It’s unfair to charge Loma Vista for any infrastructure that is needed for developing outside the Fresno Irrigation District,” Miller said after the vote.
Sean Smith, the city’s supervising civil engineer, said staff worked six months on their calculations and it may take another six months to work up new numbers.
“(The city council) did not feel comfortable acting on the item last night, and they wanted staff to come back with a little bit more information presented to them at a later date before they can make the decision,” Smith said.
There may be some savings already. A typo discovered before the presentation (a decimal was in the wrong spot) could bring the sewer fee down $1,000, Prandini said.
Darius Assemi, president/CEO of Granville Homes and publisher of GV Wire, spoke extensively at the meeting as well and was skeptical of the city’s fee plan.
Other Fees Raised
The debate about development fees took two hours with no results.
The council had a much easier time raising other fees.
Rates for engineering division services will increase from $140 to $145 per hour, planning division fees increased by 3.81%, and the fee for solar permits goes from $95 an hour to $124 an hour.
Even though engineering rates went up just last year, the staff report said that “the cost of employee benefits has been increasing and is expected to continue to rise for the foreseeable future.”
All those passed with 5-0 votes with no debate or objection.