Island County’s fee study rite in progress

It’s the time of year again for Island County commissioners to consider increasing the cost of doing business with the planning department.

This time around, planning officials are advocating  several new fees, increases in a range of fees and the elimination of one fee.

The county commissioners made sizable increases in building and land-use fees two years ago, to the ire of some in the construction and real estate industries. At the time, officials said the fee hikes were somewhat steep to make up for years of stagnation. To avoid that kind of “sticker shock” in the future, Planning Director Bob Peterson said he made a commitment to look at fees on an annual basis.

As a result, Peterson presented the commissioners with a proposed list of changes to the fee schedule during a work session last week. In a recent interview, he stressed that the changes are still preliminary. Last year, the commissioners didn’t increase any fees.

Among the proposed new fees is one that was worked out between the commissioners and officials from the town of Coupeville as part of the new, joint design review regulations for Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. The proposed fees range from $150 for design review of home construction to $2,500 plus $250 per building for multi-family projects.

Another proposal is a $750 fee for bringing appeals of the new Clean Water Utility assessment to the hearing examiner. Normally, appeals to the hearing examiner cost $1,740, but Peterson proposed a more modest fee for the less complicated matter.

In addition, Peterson said there’s a proposed $350 fee for habitat assessment required by Federal Emergency Management in connection with a federal biological opinion for the implementation of the National Flood Insurance Program in the Puget Sound region.

Planners advised the commissioners to get rid of a pre-application fee, which currently totals $250. People are refunding the fee if the applicant proceeds with a project, but Peterson proposed doing away with it altogether to encourage people to go through the education, pre-application process.

Peterson proposed increasing shoreline permits by 15 percent and environmental reviews by 25 percent.

“This will still not cover the cost of doing those reviews,” he said. “They are among the most complicated tasks we do.”

Planners are proposing to increase fees for mechanic and plumbing permits to be closer to those of neighboring counties.

Finally, Peterson presented the commissioners with two alternatives for adjusting building permit fees. He proposed either an across-the-board 3 percent hike or an increase based on square-foot valuation.

Peterson said he’s presented the proposals to representatives from Skagit/Island Counties Builders Association and a real estate group. He now plans to have a more thorough discussion with the groups.


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