Clark County cuts two fees charged to businesses

Chamber, county officials collaborate to ease process

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to lower two commercial fees in an ongoing effort to reduce costs for business owners.

Jim Muir, the county's chief building official, and Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway said they worked with a subcommittee from the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce to reduce both a business change occupancy fee and a business move-in fee.

The business change fee, required when, for example, an existing coffee shop gets sold to a new owner but remains a coffee shop, will be reduced from $296 to $98.50.

The move-in fee, required when, for example, a real estate office transforms into a travel agency, will be reduced from $837.95 to $436.50.

The fees were reduced because the county agreed to streamline the process so it takes less staff time, Muir said. Now, instead of the county sending a building official and someone from the Fire Marshal's office to do inspections, only one person will go. They also simplified the application.

Ben Hoskins, a member of the GVCC subcommittee, told commissioners that the effort was focused on helping owners expand or start a business and not be overwhelmed by county requirements.

"Businesses aren't in the business of starting a business," Hoskins said. He said the new application uses language that's easier to understand.

Eric Golemo, another member of the GVCC subcommittee, said the fee reductions are directly proportioned to staff work requirements.

Muir told commissioners the county will continue working with the GVCC to make procedures more user-friendly.

Muir said county inspections are required to make sure the business is in compliance.

Different types of businesses have different requirements, such as the number of emergency exits, Dunaway said.

Commissioner Tom Mielke said since the county doesn't issue business licenses, it's difficult to track businesses. Muir said he'll work with the business community to spread the word that the move-in and business change permits are required.

Muir said it's unfortunate when a new owner comes to the county to get a permit to install a new heating system, for example, only to discover the property isn't up to building code standards and have to spend money they hadn't budgeted for to bring the space up to code, Muir said.

Lowering fees has been a high priority for commissioners, but it's a tricky balance because the county's community development department operates almost entirely on fee revenues. If the department comes up short because too many fees are waived or reduced, the difference comes out of the county's general fund, which means taxpayers are subsidizing private development to an even greater extent.

So far this year, commissioners have offered a fee holiday for certain businesses, recalculated fees to more accurately reflect how much staff time is involved and waived or reduced traffic impact fees.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.