SANTA ROSA -- The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today is considering a number of real estate development and construction fee increases that would raise an estimated $1.5 million more for the Permit & Resource Development Department and forestall more staff reductions.

Reeling from a big dropoff in construction activity in the past few years, the department, or PRMD, has called for the fee increases along with spending cuts such as trimming staffing by 15 and a half full-time-equivalent positions for its 2010-11 budget, set to take effect July 1.

A number of local jurisdictions also have been significantly reducing planning and building departments. Petaluma last year significantly pruned its planning department, and the County of Napa recently approved the merging of its planning and building functions with its economic-development team.

Two-thirds of PRMD's recommended fees -- for all building permits and most well and septic permits -- would increase by a 1.4 percent inflation index, and hourly billable staff hours would also increase by that amount. However, engineering fees would increase 30 percent on average, project review fees 23 percent and those major projects would be moved to a billable-cost basis.

Taken together, the proposed increases would add $1,350, or 9 percent, to current fees for a 2,000-square-foot house on a septic system and nearly $900, or 9 percent, to those for such a home connected to a sewer, according to PRMD estimates. A sample 5,000-cubic-yard grading project would have a 23 percent, or $468, increase.

The proposed fee increases were presented to the PRMD Director's Advisory Group, composed of 13 representatives from construction, real estate and farming companies and organizations, and The Construction Coalition, made up of North Coast Builders Exchange and Home Builders Association of Northern California.

"Both groups understood the rationale behind the proposed fees and appreciated the need to maintain sufficient staffing to provide permitting services," wrote PRMD staff planner Alicia Ceniceroz in the staff report for the meeting today. "However, the construction industry has suffered historic losses during the current economic recession to the point that any cost increase is seen as a substantial impediment to recovery."

Along with the proposed department fee increases are a number of suggested remedies:

Project managers will follow permit applications to keep processing timeframes on track and to be a single point of contact for applicants.

Starting July 1, owner-builders will be able to submit online applications for water heater, roof, repair and other basic building permits. Since the online permit system started, only licensed contractors were allowed to apply that way.

Deferral of traffic, park and affordable-housing impact fees to the time of building occupancy is being recommended for consideration during final county budget hearings this year. PRMD also is revisiting the nexus fee between commercial development and affordable housing, with a report due later this spring.

Allow property owners to correct code violations, even their own, without penalties, similar to a program adopted recently in Mendocino County. This would expand the existing program allowed for property buyers.

For more information, read the staff report for the proposed fee increases.