Island County eyes plate of fee hikes before year’s end

Island County commissioners are scheduled to consider increases in building permit and land-use fees for the third time in two years.

The proposed hikes will be on agenda for 2:45 p.m. on the commissioners’ Dec. 27 meeting, which will be Commissioner John Dean’s last chance to vote. Newly elected Commissioner Kelly Emerson will move into his office by the end of the year.

Island County Planning Director Bob Pederson explained that the increase is necessary to come closer to full recovery of the cost of a variety of permit servicing activities. It could also mean that development will more fully pay for itself.

“It will help recover costs and reduce current expense money that subsidizes permit activities,” he said.

Under the proposal, the planning department’s portion of most land-use fees will increase by 3 percent. The public works and health departments also charge fees, usually much smaller, for the work the departments do on land-use permits.

These permits includes things like short and long plats, planned residential developments, site plan review and shoreline development permits. The cost of a clearing and grading permit, for example, will increase from $500 to $512.

But in addition, a number of permits associated with critical areas will increase by 25 percent. Pederson said such activities as reviewing wetland reports or eelgrass surveys can be very time-intensive for staff since it may involve multiple site inspections, meetings with applicants and administrative work.

A review of a wetland report without mitigation, for example, will jump from $400 to $500. The cost of a preliminary critical areas determination will go from $300 to $375.

But in addition, Pederson proposed completely cutting the charge for pre-application conferences in order to encourage applicants to meet with staff and learn about the process.

The proposal includes an across-the-board 2 percent increase for the more-modest public works component of the total land-use permit fees.

On the building permit side, Pederson said he proposed a 2 percent increase on fees to help his department recover the costs of all the activities his building department staff do for which there are no fees. They, for example, have to do inspections for all liquor license applications, which amount to about 60 a year.

The good news is that the planning department will finally get the long-planned-for permit tracking software next year. It was funded with a 3 percent technology fee on permits. Pederson said it should bring more efficiencies in the office and mean quicker permit turn-around for the public. Also, his staff will be able to keep very accurate accounts of how much time they spend on different permits, which will allow them to set more accurate fee schedules in the future.

The department, Pederson said, has continued to make strides in processing permits more quickly, largely because past rounds of fee increases allowed him to hire another staff member. Last year, some developers complained about a logjam in the planning department, particularly in the land-use side, causing delays in building projects and costing jobs.

In June of this year, the department had 132 applications for land-use permits in the system and 35 of those were past the deadline for being processed. But by October, the county had 109 applications and only three were overdue.

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