Island County building permit fees increased for the new year

Building permit fees in Island County in 2012 are now pegged to a standardized format used by many jurisdictions in the state and across the nation.

The change, however, results in an increase in building permit fees that will have to be paid by anyone building a new house or adding on to an existing home in the county.

Island County commissioners discussed and adopted the proposal, with a 2-1 vote, at one of their final meetings of 2011. While county officials had discussed increases in both land-use and building fees, they didn’t touch land-use charges this time around.

Andy Griffin, the building official, explained that the county’s building permit valuation schedule for residential construction hasn’t been adjusted in 10 years. It’s set at $95 a square foot. It’s used with a fee schedule to set the cost of building permits; the larger the project, the greater the fee.

Griffin studied the issue and found that most nearby jurisdictions, including Oak Harbor, follow the building valuation data published by the International Code Counsel, known as the ICC. The valuation is based on the national average of value per square foot.

The ICC currently sets the value at $102.01 per square foot. The ICC updates the value twice a year, but the commissioners decided only to update the county’s valuation to the ICC schedule once a year.

Griffin said the change will average an extra $100 for each permit. A building permit for a 1,920-square-foot home, for example, will increase from $2,699 to $2,853.

The fees are meant to cover the county’s cost of administering permits, examining plans, inspecting and regulating construction projects. The fees currently aren’t covering the cost, which means taxpayers are essentially subsidizing development. There was a $50,000 hole in the budget for the building department side of county planning in 2011, which was filled from the current expense fund.

Griffin said the fee increase is estimated to bring in an extra $40,000 next year, which will go a long way toward filling the gap.

“It would be a benefit to have equity with other jurisdictions and to reduce uncertainty,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said.

Representatives from the building and real estate industries attended a December commissioners’ meeting and expressed some reservations about the fee increase. Jason Joiner, president of Whidbey Island Association of Realtors, said the group has long supported the idea of a fee for service. In other words, the county should be able to charge a fee to cover the cost of its service.

Gary Wray, a local builder, agreed.

“I don’t feel the citizens, the taxpayers in the county, should be subsidizing construction,” he said.

Still, they both were concerned that the fee increase will be used to fund more than just the cost of administering building permits, but may fund things like long-range planning. They were also concerned that fee increases would make homes too expensive.

“It’s $100 here, a $100 there. Eventually that home doesn’t get built,” Wray said.

Joiner said the commissioners should consider the importance of protecting home ownership when making a decision.

Budget Director Elaine Marlow explained that the revenue from the fees will only be used to fund the building department.

South Whidbey resident Rufus Rose was completely opposed to the fee hike.

“The notion of filling a hole in government by jacking up fees, whether it’s been done for awhile or not, grates on me,” he said.

Likewise, Commissioner Kelly Emerson was opposed to the fee increase, which sparked a brief debate. She suggested that current expense funds being used in other departments to pay for non-mandated programs could be diverted to the building department.

Commissioner Angie Homola pressed Emerson about what money she was talking about and in what departments, but Emerson responded that it wasn’t an appropriate time to discuss that. Homola argued that it was a completely appropriate time.

Again, Emerson said it wasn’t an appropriate time, but then she claimed the county health department is really only mandated to fund programs for tuberculosis prevention and possibly the septic program.

The building fee increase will go into effect in the New Year.






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