A casual discussion period during the weekly meeting of the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors turned into a discussion on charges for building permits for livestock confinement operations Tuesday morning. The discussion highlighted the May 27 meeting of the board at the Palo Alto County Courthouse.
Supervisor Jerry Hofstad brought the topic of building permit charges up to start the conversation, which soon drew Palo Alto County Zoning Administrator Joe Neary to the boardroom to participate.
“I’ve been thinking about these confinements, and I would like to propose that we raise fees for out of county developers of these livestock buildings,” Hofstad said to start the discussion. “Why don’t we charge them $3,000 to $5,000 for the permits? If they want to build those things so bad, let them build ’em down in Story County instead of here. We could put the money into the roads or the general fund.”
After a couple of moments of silence, Supervisor Ed Noonan spoke up. “Could we do that?”
“I think that’s a good idea,” replied Supervisor Ron Graettinger. “I think we should have Joe Neary come over and get in on this.”
A phone call was quickly placed to Neary, who arrived within a few minutes.
In the meantime, the conversation continued.
“I think we ought to try it,” Noonan said. “If we find out we can’t, maybe it’d be easier to ask for forgiveness.”
“We’d have to pay the funds back,” pointed out Auditor Gary Leonard.
“I really think its something we should check on,” Hofstad said, “It’s something to think about.”
As Neary entered the boardroom, he was briefed on what had been discussed prior to his arrival.
“It’s funny you should be talking about this subject,” Neary related, “I was just talking with Prestage Farms down in Ames and they had commented on how reasonable our permitting fees were. They were dealing with a county that was charging a thousand dollars and Prestage thought that was a bit excessive.”
According to Neary, building permit costs for confinements in Palo Alto County are based on the livestock population of the buildings. A building with a capacity of a half-million head would be $165, while a million-head site would have a permit cost of $290.
“I’d need to talk to the county attorney to see if we could do this,” Neary said, “but I’m sure it would hit the fan if you did this. Personally, I think it would end up going before a judge, and it would probably put the county in harms’ way.”
“Well, the state does it with hunting and fishing licenses,” Hofstad countered, noting that non-resident licenses are more costly than Iowa resident licenses.
“I think you’d be putting the Good Neighbor Policy here in the county in harms’ way too,” Neary pointed out.
“So what,” Hofstad replied. “You tell them no, according to the Good Neighbor Policy and then they go ahead and build anyway.”
Graettinger observed he felt the fees for building permits need to be raised due to the increases in fuel and to cover Neary’s time. When asked how much time he spent on an average permit, Neary replied a Master Matrix site usually took anywhere from 12-16 hours to verify all the information.
“We need to raise those fees,” Noonan said.
“I’d say double it, at least,” Graettinger added.
“Well, I’m not saying you can’t raise the fees, but I really think we should check with the state,” Neary said.
Graettinger agreed, and asked Neary to check with the Iowa Attorney General’s office for an opinion.
“See how much of a pause there is after you ask the question before they reply,” Noonan said.
“I don’t see a problem with families here in the county wanting to build these units so they can bring their children back to get them into farming,” Supervisor Keith Wirtz said. “I fully support that.”
“I understand that too,” Hofstad said as the discussion ended, “but I see no reason why the out of county firms should come in here to Palo Alto County and build them here. If they want them so bad, let them go to Story County or somewhere else.”