While construction activity might be at its lowest ebb in decades, application fees for many Jackson County development services will go up Sept. 8.

While construction activity might be at its lowest ebb in decades, application fees for many Jackson County development services will go up Sept. 8.

Builders and consultants say that won't be good news for clients, many of whom already are wondering if they can afford projects.

But while 16 separate planning fees are increasing — including hefty boosts for some site reviews and major developments — county officials say the county's taxpayers will still subsidize more than half of this year's planning department costs through the general fund.

"It's a tough situation," said Dennis Hoffbuhr, of surveying and planning firm Hoffbuhr & Associates. "What they are trying to do is be self-funded as I understand it. The county commissioners want planning to be paid for by people using the services.

"But right now demand for the services is really low. When the costs go up it gets to the point that I think — considering the state of the economy — the fees are going to discourage people from doing anything."

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said many of the planning costs are driven by state legislative action, Land Use Board of Appeals rulings and court decisions — all of which are beyond local control.

State law allows the county to recover its costs and the county regularly reviews its fee system each year. County commissioners froze planning fees for fiscal 2009-2010, Jordan said, which led to a planning department shortfall of about $1.3 million.

Even if the buck doesn't stop at the courthouse on Oakdale Avenue, Jordan knows the county ends up taking the heat.

"They're blaming the county, because we're the face they see when they come in," he said. "They think we make the rules when we're just enforcing the rules."

The county can't adopt less restrictive laws than the state, but it can add tighter rules, Jordan said.

However, the county recently hired a Eugene consultant to review its land-use rules, in part so that it would go no further than state law.

The biggest fee increase — a boost of nearly $1,900 — was in Type 4 permits, which include major projects such as public road creation, comprehensive plan and zoning amendments, urban-growth boundaries, planned unit developments and solid waste disposal.

Bret Moore, the third-generation president of W.L. Moore Construction in Central Point, said fees might be discouraging, but there are broader issues when working on large projects.

"From my perspective, what makes the difference is how timely applications are processed and go through the system," Moore said. "You are willing to pay a higher price for a better or more timely product. What's frustrating is when you pay high fees and don't get timely service."

Zack Williams of Regenesis Ecological Design in Ashland said rising permit costs can deter potential clients.

"In this economy we're trying to lower our prices," Williams said. "With stuff like that, everyone has to pay for it. I can see some thinking 'I guess we'll have to put it off until next spring.' "

Hoffbuhr said there are plenty of deterrents to building and development.

"You have to go through the processing time and then add the length of time to recover the money," Hoffbuhr said. "Money is really hard to come by now to begin with; it's not real easy to run down to the bank and get a loan. I think it will have an impact on how many applications are made."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.