By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
January 6, 2007
The Hood River County Planning Department is reducing its customer service hours to deal with a large stack of Measure 37 claims.
A planner will only be available for consultations at the State Street office from 1 to 3 p.m. on weekdays through May. That will delay the processing of other development applications for up to seven weeks beyond the usual five week turnaround.
Planning Director Mike Benedict is also attempting to alleviate some of the Measure 37 strain by contracting for help with deed research. He said 113 claims have to be processed by June in order to comply with the six-month deadline written into the law. If a decision is not made within 180 days, the claimant can take his/her case to court and recoup attorney fees.
“Patience is going to be a virtue in this office for the next six months,” said Benedict. “You can’t throw more money at this problem. There’s no one that you can hire who’s more trained to do Measure 37 claims than we are.”
He said every attempt will be made not to interrupt the issuance of building permits. But all legislative work, such as upgrading the comprehensive land-use plan, has been shelved.
“My top priority is to make sure that we don’t slow anyone in the building trades up. Time is money to these guys,” said Benedict.
He said the most noticeable delays will be projects that are now “in the pipeline” awaiting review. Two planning/building permit technicians will handle routine customer inquiries as usual.
“We will have to do some triage to make sure that we do process claims that are potentially litigious or harmful to the county. That has to be done in a time frame that will allow all appeals to happen within the 120-150 day statutory deadline,” said Benedict.
Measure 37 was approved by 61 percent of voters statewide in November of 2004. The law went into effect one month later and granted two years for landowners to more easily file claims. Property owners could either ask for restored development rights or compensation to offset the loss of value from a regulation.
During the month of November, the county was receiving as many as 11 claims per day as landowners hurried to meet the two-year deadline. Although Measure 37 claims can still be filed for past government actions, the state has mandated and more complex and expensive process.
Benedict said, beginning in February, the Hood River County Commission will address about 14 claims at each of its two monthly meetings. That means that three of his five planners will each dedicate full-time energies to completing eight to 10 claims per month. Once that goal has been met, they will whittle away at their normal workload.
“It’s going to be tough on our psyches for awhile but we’ll get through this,” said Benedict.
He said if all goes well, the county board will hold a special meeting June 1 to beat the clock on the last batch of claims, which expires the next day.
He said the $5,000 left in his overtime budget for fiscal year 2006-07 may be used up in the planning marathon. Plus, he might need to request that funds be transferred from materials and services to cover personnel costs.
“It’s not going to be too bad during the next two months. But when the spring building season begins it’s going to get pretty interesting around here,” said Benedict.