Council nixes planning fees waiver policy

The Ashland City Council will not adopt a policy to reimburse planning fees when a home is destroyed by a disaster.

Instead, decisions about whether to reimburse a homeowner will be settled on a case-by-case basis, members decided at a Tuesday night meeting.

In May, the council voted to reimburse victims of the 2010 Oak Knoll fire $35,000 in planning fees.

That fast-moving grass fire destroyed 11 homes in August 2010. Nine have since been rebuilt.

Councilman David Chapman said instead of setting a policy about fee reimbursement, council members should continue to use their discretion to consider fee relief for individual cases.

"It seems like what we have is sufficient," he said.

Councilors struggled with how they would set criteria for a qualifying disaster, considering that homes could be destroyed by such wide-ranging events as a wildfire, arson, flood or a freak meteor strike.

Under the proposed policy, homeowners would have had to submit documents showing their insurance was inadequate to cover planning fees.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said setting a policy to reimburse fees would be bad public policy. The city would subsidize homeowners who buy insurance that is inadequate to cover planning fees, while homeowners who pay for sufficient insurance would have to pay the fees, she pointed out.

Fee reimbursements would have been limited to a total of $100,000 for all victims in a fiscal year to protect the city's finances in case of a large-scale disaster.

Councilor Greg Lemhouse was the only member who wanted to adopt a fee reimbursement policy.

He said people who are left homeless by disasters should not be victimized again by having to pay planning fees to rebuild.

"It's responsible to have a policy that says, 'We'll help you get back on your feet,'" he said.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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