Land use fees hiked despite protests

Island County commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to increase the fees for a couple dozen land-use permits, despite the protest from several people in the construction industry.

In addition, the commissioners set a July 6 hearing date to discuss a proposed 1.5 percent hike in building permit fees, plus a doubling of the fee for building without a permit.

Keith Higman, interim planning director, explained that the land-use permit fees have not been raised in more than seven years. He said former planning director Jeff Tate started the process of figuring out the average cost to the department of providing each land-use service, whether it’s a site plan review or a short plat.

“The goal is 100 percent cost recovery,” Higman said.

The planning department is completely supported by the fees it collects. The department lost 13 of 35 positions over the last six months to budget cutting, Higman said.

“We’ve done everything we can do as a staff to lower costs,” he said.

Still, the folks who will have to pay the larger fees weren’t pleased. Cory Ertel of Skagit / Island Counties Builders Association said the increases were too much at the wrong time. He pointed out that some of the fees doubled or even tripled.

“We ask the commissioners to consider delaying the fee increases until there’s proof of an economic recovery,” he said.

Scott Yonkman of Oak Harbor’s Yonkman Construction requested that the commissioners take more time to consider the impact of the fee increases. He said it could negatively impact development, which would ripple through the economy.

Coupeville resident Gary Wray said he was concerned about impact of the increase on Habitat for Humanity.

“These kinds of increases do not support affordable housing,” he said.

Higman said about a third of the land-use fees will be increased, while one was decreased. The cost of a residential site plan review, type 2 residential, will shrink from $500 to $300.

Even with the increases, he said the fees won’t always cover all the department’s expenses. The county’s cost for an appeal to the hearing examiner, for example, is about $2,000, while the current fee is only $70. The new price is $400.

One of the biggest increases is for a site plan review of a gravel pit. The cost skyrocketed from $1,000 to $4,200.

“They are just about the most complex application that the department deals with,” Higman said.

Higman also handed out paperwork comparing the fees in Island County to surrounding counties, showing Island County generally has the lowest.

“From a fee perspective, Island County is still an affordable place to do business,” he said.

The commissioners all agreed that they had no choice but to increase the fees, especially since the department’s budget depends on the increase. Commissioner Angie Homola said the county shouldn’t have waited so long to calculate the actual cost for the county to provide the services and make the corresponding fee increases.

“We should have been doing this all along,” she said.

Here’s a look at some of the fee increases, which go into effect July 1:

• Short plat (four or fewer lots), from $500 plus $50 per lot to $1,000 plus $75 per lot.

• Long plat (five or more lots), from $2,160 plus $50 a lot to $2,500 plus $75 a lot.

• Variance, type 2 (requires posting a sign and newspaper publication), from $200 to $325.

• Variance, type 3 (requires public hearing), from $500 to $2,000.

• Open timber application, from $300 to $500.

• Zoning amendment application (rezone, type 3), from $500 to $2,000.

• Zoning code interpretation, from $150 to $300.

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