County approves fee holiday for businesses

To qualify, projects must create at least 15 full-time jobs

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Hoping to spur economic development and bring jobs to a county with an unemployment rate of approximately 11 percent, Clark County commissioners on Tuesday approved a fee holiday for certain businesses.

The county will waive 100 percent of fees for development proposals that will create a minimum of 15 full-time jobs and are located in industrial, mixed-use, business park or office campus zoning districts.

Initially, Marty Snell, the director of the community development department, proposed that the jobs would be related to the goals outlined in the Columbia River Economic Development Council’s jobs plan, meaning they would be in the fields of information technology, higher education and international investment.

Commissioner Steve Stuart balked at the restrictions, saying he doesn’t want to discourage companies from locating in Clark County.

Stuart and Commissioner Marc Boldt approved the fee holiday, which expires Sept. 28. Commissioner Tom Mielke was absent.

The county will also waive 50 percent of fees for commercial developments that create a minimum of 15 full-time jobs.

Waived fees include those for preliminary plan review, development engineering plan review and inspections.

The waived fees will be paid out of the county’s general fund.

Under examples provided by Snell, the fee waiver could result in savings up to $113,954 for a large development (multiple buildings on 16 acres).

Commissioners are also considering waiving traffic impact fees for certain businesses, but that issue was not part of Tuesday’s hearing.

Last April, the Vancouver City Council had a workshop on fee holidays but took a pass on implementing one.

Laura Hudson, the city’s community development director, told city councilors a fee holiday “won’t really boost the economy overall in the community, or make your community development friendly the way more permanent changes to systems and to codes would do.”

Those permanent changes include shortening the wait to get plans reviewed.

A 14-month-long fee holiday that expired Dec. 31 resulted in the county

waiving approximately $400,000 worth of fees, said budget director Jim Dickman. That money had to be transferred from the county’s general fund to cover the waived fees, as the county’s community development department operates almost entirely on fee revenues.

The general fund gets its money from the county’s share of property taxes; two-thirds of the general fund goes to pay for public safety.

Dickman said Tuesday he can’t predict how the fee holiday will impact the general fund because he has no idea how many businesses will take advantage of it.

Ideally, construction taxes, property taxes and sales tax revenues would make up for the waived fees, but that’s not working out to be the case for the projects that used the last fee waiver, Dickman said.

Most of the work that was done under the last fee holiday was tenant improvements.

Tenant improvements are not covered under the new fee holiday.

Of the business applicants who responded to a survey about the fee holiday, two-thirds said the fee waiver made no difference in the location or timing of their project.