By editorial board • 

City tramples valid concerns in adoption of fee increases

Few good decisions are made in a hurry, so it came as little surprise when the McMinnville City Council trampled several valid concerns Tuesday in its haste to hike building and planning fees.

The fees have not been updated since 2002, and often fall hundreds — if not thousands — short of covering actual city costs.

City staff decided they’d better start making up the difference, and council agreed — immediately. The increases still don’t cover the city’s costs, according to a study finished in recent months, but anyone who wants to build will still be left reeling from the sticker shock.

Planning Director Heather Richards argues this is only fair:

Building and planning fees are separate pots of money, but on the planning side, the city’s general fund foots the bill for any expenses fees fail to cover. Why should all McMinnville taxpayers pitch in to pay for building projects that ultimately line the pockets of just a handful of developers?

That’s an odd argument coming from people engaged in community development, as it’s based on the premise new construction generates private profit without fostering social good.

McMinnville needs more affordable housing. Councilors have said so time and again. But jacking up fees will either discourage such building or pass the cost on to renters and first-time homeowners.

Councilors seem to labor under the belief developers are fat cats who need to pull more of their own weight. But many are local folks eying one or two smaller projects. If they’re discouraged, large-scale developers will dominate the market with an expanse of rabbit warrens.

It’s also odd to hear public officials talk about public services directly benefiting only a few people. By that logic, why should the elderly pay school taxes? Why should non-readers pay library taxes?

The very foundation of government is paying collectively for things that would be prohibitively expensive privately. New construction benefits more than developers. It provides homes for people and increases the overall tax base.

City officials present a legitimate case for increasing fees. However, we don’t buy the argument they had to do so immediately and dramatically. They could have phased in smaller increases over time and worked with the business community to ease the sticker shock.

It would have helped if they hadn’t limped along for 16 years before suddenly declaring an emergency. When you’re lagging behind, the appropriate remedy isn’t to romp on the gas. Someone could get run over.

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