Sewer financing offered in Clark County

Program seeks to spur commercial, residential activity

By Libby Clark, Columbian Web Editor

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Business owners in unincorporated Clark County now have another option to cover one often-overlooked cost of opening in a new location: sewer connection fees.

The Clark Regional Wastewater District Board of Commissioners recently voted to provide low-interest financing for commercial customers to connect to the district’s sewer system. Commissioners will also allow homebuilders to delay paying the connection fees for unsold houses in new subdivisions until after those houses are occupied.

The wastewater district is one of several Clark County municipalities, including the cities of Ridgefield, Battle Ground and Washougal, to adopt fee deferral or financing options in an effort to spur business creation and economic growth, said Tracy Doriot, owner of Doriot Construction in Washougal and president of the Building Industry Association of Clark County. The association estimates the fee deferrals could boost speculative home building by as much as 5 percent in Clark County, he said.

“It’s a signal that the local governments understand they’re partners in these developments,” Doriot said. “It’s good for everyone.”

Cost deferment

Sewer connection fees typically cost developers or businesses a minimum of $6,342 when they build or move into a new space. The financing, currently available at an interest rate of 3.2 percent, will allow business owners to defer some of the initial costs of opening until after they begin generating income, said Steve Bacon, a development planning engineer for Clark Regional Wastewater District.

The wastewater district isn’t reducing the fees, but it will front a loan and then allow the business to spread the payments out for up to five years. This financing structure could be especially helpful to restaurants, which pay the $6,300 fee for every 12 seats in the dining room, Bacon said. More restaurateurs might be able to open eateries in Salmon Creek, for example, where residents have long complained the fees are too high to allow for development.

The program also offers a safer alternative to traditional financing through a bank or credit union, Bacon said. If the company goes out of business before the total cost is paid, the district will forgive the remaining balance instead of trying to collect it from the business owner, he said.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’ll spur building,” Bacon said. “But we’ll hopefully remove some impediments to building.”