Wallowa County Commissioner Dan DeBoie recently returned from the Oregon Planning Institute in Eugene and got a new perspective on how the Wallowa County Planning Department does business. "There are 36 counties in Oregon and 36 different ways of doing business," said DeBoie.
DeBoie left after two days with the impression that the local planning department is more "user friendly" than the departments in other counties. While the average citizen can still deal with Wallowa County's planning department, said DeBoie, most citizens in other counties throughout the state normally need to hire lawyers and planning consultants to wade through complex planning issues.
DeBoie estimates that only five percent of patrons of the local planning department are represented by lawyers at public hearings.
He also noted that Wallowa County is one county in the state that does not try to recover planning commission costs through fees. County Planning Director Bill Oliver says that about 20 percent of his department's costs are recovered through fees, 45 percent through grants and the balance through the county's general fund.
Deputy Planning Director Harold Black also attended the Oct. 1-3 institute and agreed with DeBoie's assessment of fee schedules throughout the state. One example he gave was Deschutes County and fee schedules for HB 3326 petitions for nonfarm dwellings in exclusive farm use zones. While taking the process through the partition permit process plus two nonfarm dwelling conditional use permits, (with the added cost of a public hearing), might cost the applicant $1,150 in Wallowa County, it costs the applicant $2,400 in Deschutes County.
Deschutes County requires HB 3326 applicants to fill out a 15-page application form, compared to 10 pages required in Wallowa County. Black says that his department routinely spends time walking applicants through the process, supplying maps and study information as well. That's a personal touch not seen at planning departments serving a larger population base, he says.
"Our office is more apt to know the applicant, their situation and the land," said Black.