In Our View: Tough Decision: Lower Fees

County makes right call; local businesses benefit

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Clark County officials are understandably cautious about lowering fees. It can backfire, and two ways are described below. But when lowering fees produces the double benefits of efficiency gains for the county and lower costs for local businesses, the strategy becomes a sure-fire success.Thus, we commend county commissioners (and county officials who made the recommendation) for lowering a business change occupancy fee (from $296 to $98.50) and a business move-in fee (from $837.95 to $436.50). Those reductions will have a meaningful impact on business owners and the local economy.

(Examples of the two fees were described in a Wednesday Columbian story by Stephanie Rice. A business change occupancy fee is charged when, say, a coffee shop is sold but remains a coffee shop. A business move-in fee is required when, say, a real estate office becomes a travel agency.)

The changes were recommended by Jim Muir, the county's chief building official, and Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway, who explained that staff time will be reduced because one person now will conduct the related inspections instead of separate inspectors from the building and fire marshal's departments.

This is the kind of introspection and action that all governments should consider routine. Making government more efficient is a service to taxpayers.

But what makes this story especially encouraging is the way the private sector was involved. For this, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce deserves a special tip of the hat. A subcommittee of the GVCC has been working with county officials to find ways to expedite and encourage business development. One of the best ways is reducing commercial fees, at least when doing so doesn't backfire.

This is the kind of partnership that works best, instead of government operating in a silo or the private sector feeling it has limited control. Collaboration produces amazing results.

Simplifying procedures and lowering costs also makes perfect sense during this tough economy.

But making these kinds of changes requires massive research and due diligence. As Rice explained in her story, the county's community development department is funded largely through fee revenues. Drastic cuts in that revenue stream could negatively affect the general budget.

A second example of fee reduction backfiring could reveal itself with the cutting of impact fees. These are typically charged to developers to generate revenue to pay -- at least in part -- for infrastructure required by growing neighborhoods or business areas. If that revenue source is dramatically restricted, those infrastructure costs must be picked up by changes in the general fund and, ultimately, by taxpayers.

This is one reason the county relies on experts like Muir and Dunaway, with valuable input from business experts such as those found at the GVCC.

The county also this year has offered a fee holiday for some businesses and recalculated fees to more accurately reflect staff time.

It's good to see the county working hard to get more bang for its buck or, more precisely, more bang for the taxpayers' bucks.