Clark County Commissioner-elect David Madore has plans to address more than just the Columbia River Crossing.
It will be a part of the larger picture, he says, but he will use his position to ask questions regarding the process. He also hopes to pass a resolution withdrawing county support for the project.
But also a big part in Madore’s platform is job creation. He says the key to stimulating job growth is to create an environment where business can thrive. Key in that, he says, is cutting impact and permit fees.
“We need to stop setting businesses up to fail,” Madore said in a recent interview. “Huge impact fees are confiscating the startup cash that new businesses needed to succeed.”
That move could attract business looking to relocate from an “over-regulated” California, he says.
The county has offered fee holidays a number of times since the economy turned sour. Between October 2010 and December 2011, the county waived more than $400,000 in fees for services such as permitting, plan reviews, fire marshal inspections and stormwater reviews.
The county has currently been waiving similar fees since February, leaving nearly $200,000 uncollected.
Impact fees, which pay for the impact to parks and transportation caused by new development, have also been waived in the past. County Administrator Bill Barron said county commissioners could choose to implement further holidays on fees if they wish.
So far in 2012, the county has collected just over $800,000 in impact fees. That’s down about $1 million from last year’s collection, and drastically down from the peak in 2004, when $6.2 million in fees were collected.
Madore says the funding vacated by fees can be made up with what he expects to be an influx of jobs. New business would boost sales tax income for the county, he said.
“Some will say that if we cut impact fees, that we are just passing more costs on to the taxpayers,” Madore said. “In reality, huge impact fees are merely discouraging new businesses from starting up or growing the same way that hiking store prices into the stratosphere simply drives customers away.”
Madore said he’s heard of examples of this happening in the county. One example he cites is that of a private K-3 school in Hazel Dell that hoped to operate out of an existing church building. Madore says fees stymied the operation in a way that reduced the scope of its operation, resulting in fewer jobs.
Removing barriers will create those jobs, more business and more wealth, Madore says, and that will provide additional tax revenue in the long run. He adds that the new revenues should assist in eventually reducing the money needed from property taxes.
Madore also won’t support the annual increase of property taxes by 1 percent as allowed under state law. County commissioners can turn that raise away, as they did last year, and are expected to do again this year.
Further changes include a plan to remove fees on county parks. Madore says charging for parks isn’t worth deterring tourists, who provide a benefit for local business. Admission fees in 2011 totaled just over $479,000.
Madore plans to meet with staff and department heads over the coming months. He wants to get a feel for who does what, and how efficiently departments are operating.
He said he doesn’t assume there is currently a certain level of cuts needed, but he does want to look at options for the county. He said he will return 20 percent of his annual $102,224 commissioner salary to reduce the taxpayer burden.
“People assume that cutting government cost means cutting services,” Madore said. “That wrongly assumes that government is already 100 percent efficient with no room for improvement. As businesses have become more efficient, government must also become more lean and efficient. That’s where new leadership from private industry can help us do government smarter.”
Madore says he’s not looking to privatize everything, but he does want county bids to be as competitive as possible. He plans to look at all county services as up for bid, a move which may move some departments to sharpen their pencils.
“Whether public or private, everyone loses with monopolies,” Madore said. “Government should never do what private enterprise can do better. Allow private industry to bid along with the public department to provide some services. Departments will tune themselves up when competition is welcomed.”
He also said he wants to work with union leaders in an effort to open union negotiations to the public.
“Not all union negotiations should be done in secret,” Madore said. “There are times when the process should be more open and transparent. Union wages and benefits should be comparable to the private sector that pays for them.”
Barron said that is something that can be broached with unions, as it is legal to conduct negotiations in open.
“But in my 14 years here, they have always been closed,” Barron said.
Jeff Young, president of the Clark County Custody Officers Guild, said he’s willing to speak with Madore on the matter, but he doesn’t see a change in the way they negotiate.
“I think we’re geared toward going with the current method,” Young said. “The negotiation, and steps involved in that process, aren’t necessarily public. Our contracts are public record, but you don’t want the process in the court of public opinion. We aren’t hiding anything, the final product is public record, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to have that open to the public.”