By editorial board • 

Raising fees for appeals not an attack on citizen participation

Freedom of speech isn’t always free.

Petitioning the government for a redress of grievances in McMinnville, for example, could cost you up to a solid grand if the grievance you have concerns a planning commission decision.

The city council recently hiked the cost of appealing a planning commission vote onto the council to $1,000. However, it wasn’t the stirrings of tyranny.
After proposals for increased building and planning fees went through public testimonies and council discussion earlier this month, councilors modified staff’s recommendations on the fees to appealing decisions by the planning commission and planning director.

By state law, appealing decisions by the director to the planning commission cannot exceed $250. But the state does not provide the same guidance on the subsequent step in the appeal process. That amount is up to each individual city.

At first, staff members recommended hiking the fee to $1,335.95. (It previously was $610.) That figure coincides with the 55-percent cost recovery method used across the board in the updated planning and building fee schedule.

That price tag didn’t sit well with members of the land-use group Friends of Yamhill County. After Planning Director Heather Richards heard their concerns, she suggested councilors talk more about the final amount.

Councilors ultimately agreed $1,000 is reasonable for all concerned. We agree.

Some will feel $1,000 is still too steep and cuts people out of the planning process. Their concern is understandable. No one wants a scenario where citizens with legitimate cases go unheard because of an inability to pay. Government is of, and for the people — all the people, whether they have $1,000 to spare or not.

Some comparable cities require fees that certainly do seem restrictive. Oregon City sets an appeal to council at $3,763 plus attorney fees. Redmond requires the fee at $4,211.08.

Others occupy the short end of the scale. Newberg sets its fee at $822, Grants Pass at $455. Some cities actually hold the $250 fee for both types of appeals.
While we don’t want it to appear restrictive, there is reason not to go too low.

If an appeal is too cheap, the city runs the risk of having decisions appealed haphazardly by people or groups without solid cases or serious intentions, perhaps taking actions out of spite.

A reasonable fee ensures decisions are appealed by people who have skin in the game and dogs in the fight. There are always ways for people to speak out. Serious appeals, however, should include a small investment.




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