The state Board of Transportation agreed Wednesday to tell the legislature that new fees would be needed to eliminate taxpayer subsidies that now pay for services the state Department of Transportation performs for developers and other businesses – but board members made it clear that legislators would be responsible for any fee increases.
“To be clear, we are not implementing fees,” said Ned Curran of Charlotte, the board chairman.
The General Assembly this year directed DOT – in response to a recommendation from DOT itself – to report on what new or increased fees would be needed to cover the full cost of regulating billboards, subdivisions and oversize trucks, and monitoring utility line installation and other construction along state roads.
Builders complain that DOT takes too long to perform inspections and approve subdivision plans. Curran and Jeff Sheehan of Raleigh, both real estate executives who use the free or low-fee services, said any fees should be linked to a commitment for more responsive action from DOT.
“There’s an opportunity to take a look at the customer service for the developers who are submitting (plans) for these approvals,” Sheehan said.
Mike Holder, DOT’s chief engineer, and David Tyeryar, chief financial officer, expanded a proposed fee schedule they had introduced at an October meeting. They said some of the fees had been modified after they received feedback from affected businesses.
The services are subsidized with North Carolina’s gas tax, one of the highest in the nation, which is used to pave roads and repair bridges. Asked for the amount of the annual taxpayer subsidy, a sum reflected in the suggested new fees, Holder and Tyeryar offered what they called conservative estimates of $4 million to $7 million.
But using their recommended fee schedules along with DOT statistics for permits issued and inspections and reviews performed each year, The News & Observer estimated that the new fees would bring in more than $12 million a year.
A legislative oversight committee will receive the suggested fee schedule in December. Business people affected by the fees probably will have a chance to express concerns to legislators, Curran said.
“No one wants to have additional fees,” Curran said. “I think the message to the legislature here is to correlate fees and charges with the services that are provided.”