We can understand why residents served by the North Valley Wastewater Treatment Plant would support charging a standby fee for vacant lots.
The sewer plant has had a checkered history, having prompted controversy when the county wasn't quick enough to expand it. Standby fees were implemented in 1997, but repealed in 2004 after accusations the county wasn't friendly to business.
Looking at the number of buildable lots in the North Valley, which was one of the fastest growing portions of the county, the county invested heavily in the plant in an effort to get ahead of the growth.
Less than a year after the plant expansion was complete, the bottom fell out of the housing market, and that growth never arrived leaving the county and sewer plant customers holding the bag.
Rather than increase sewer rates immediately, the county subsidized the rate for those customers to the tune of about $600,000 over three years.
Now the county has managed to get the plant on a paying basis, but residents would like to see those folks who never built share in the pain.
According to testimony given at Thursday's meeting, charging a standby fee would add up to 1,000 new customers, increasing the number of bills sent out by a third. That would require additional help, according to the county. Also, according to the report prepared by consultant FCS, the trick to charging the fee is that it not be so high that it's cheaper to pay it, than to challenge it.
We can understand commissioners' trepidation over charging the fee when the building industry is still in the tank.
We believe that charging some sort of standby fee is fair, but that it should be applied to lots created in the future.