By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

County to begin assessing blue sign fees

The county completed that process Thursday morning with county commissioner ratification.

One of the provisions calls for the removal and return to owners of a dozen blue signs mounted in urban areas. The county plans to assess a $50 annual renewal fee on the other 346, all posted in rural areas, in a spring billing.

As it happens, Hoffman received his sign last August. The county took pity on him when it realized how long it was going to take the process to fully play out.

He was warned that the county would be exacting a fee in the future, and he was fine with that. He said he understood the fee was designed to support the program, which made sense.

Public Works Director John Phelan said the fee has been calibrated to cover the cost of mounting, repair and maintenance. He said the program will be entirely transparent, so anyone can see how much is being collected and how it’s being spent.

The money will also fund the new sign kiosks in particular hot spots where unsightly clusters have accumulated. In fact, that’s what brought the issue to the forefront in the first place, according to Michal Wert, chair of the county’s Road Improvement Advisory Committee.

Wert said the committee did a lot of outreach before drafting the policy adopted by commissioners. Along the way, she said, it solicited input from the winery and hospitality sector, which accounts for the bulk of the county ubiquitous blue signs.

She said those comments were incorporated into the policy. As a result, she said, she isn’t expecting a lot of negative feedback.

“The goal was to make it a self-sustaining program so those who benefit from it pay for it,” Wert said. “The intention of the blue sign program is to safely help the traveling public find businesses throughout the county.

“It’s not intended to be an advertising program for businesses. They have other mechanisms to do that. It’s not the responsibility of the county to advertise for them.”

Settling design and location details for the kiosks is the next step. The idea is to provide a place for motorists to pull off the road and review detailed directional information displayed on a map, rather than forcing them to try to capture it all as they drive past on narrow, winding roads with heavy tourist traffic behind.

Phelan said he thinks about 10 locations qualify for kiosks. He said he’s hoping to get the first two or three up this year.

He said target No. 1 would be the Ribbon Ridge Road intersection with North Valley Road, graced with at least 12 signs divided among three posts.

Wert said the committee plans to work with affected businesses on design details. “We’re just starting that conversation of what they could look like,” she said.

In the meantime, blue sign owners can expect to receive a mailing outlining the new policy — with an invoice enclosed.

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