Northampton Board: Who Gets a Break on Fees?

Photo courtesy of Northampton County – Northampton County recently completed installation of a kayak launch at the Oyster harbor. It is free for public use. The kayak launch was paid for with tourism infrastructure funds generated by transient occupancy taxes collected by Northampton hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfasts.

By Stefanie Jackson – A local nonprofit recently asked Northampton supervisors to waive the fee the county normally charges to review plans for new construction, but it turned into a debate about who gets more breaks in Northampton County, the “haves” or the “have-nots.”

Laura Vaughn, executive director of the Barrier Islands Center, requested a fee waiver in the amount of $1,515 regarding construction of a road to be used by school buses transporting visiting students across the property to the education building.

But as soon as a motion was made and seconded, Supervisor Robert Duer interjected, “I have one of my famous questions. … What do we charge that money for?”

Director of Planning and Zoning Susan McGhee explained that in the past, fees were collected to pay a consultant to review construction plans. But since McGhee now handles plan review, any fees collected essentially help pay her salary.

Duer supported the nonprofit but asked, “What are we going to do for the no-profit people in our county? The people that don’t have any money at the end of the month. … We never waive a fee for them.”

“The ‘haves’ are getting everything, but we haven’t done anything for the poor widow who got an old house she can’t afford to tear down. We’re going to charge her $110 to do that. Where’s her waiver?”

Chairman Spencer Murray pointed out Northampton County offers tax relief for the elderly, and McGhee added that she does not have the power to waive fees.

“I realize that,” Duer said, “But you know what, the guy that’s the runt of the litter, he never gets a break in this county. Never. And that’s why we have tires dumped on Nature Conservancy land and things like that, because they don’t have $12” to pay for the dump to take the tire.

“I’d like to have a break given to some guy who’s in a no-profit situation,” he repeated.

Murray acknowledged Duer has tried to help citizens who struggle financially and has never voted for a tax increase in four years as a supervisor.

County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski approved of Duer’s idea for a needs-based program to waive fees for demolishing dangerous structures, and he agreed to develop the program and present it to supervisors.

Supervisors waived the plan review fee for the Barrier Islands Center in a unanimous decision.

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