In Our View: Consider Fee Waiver Plan

But until questions of job creation vs. revenue loss answered, don't approve it

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Any reasonable, well-considered plan for creating jobs is deserving of examination and discussion.Such is the case with the Clark County commissioners' proposal to expand cuts to county development fees. Commissioners have discussed plans to reduce several fees for burgeoning business developments, and further discussions are scheduled.

This would be an expansion of a plan put in place toward the end of 2010 in an attempt to spur economic growth. Between November 2010 and the end of 2011, the county waived approximately $430,000 in fees; in 2012, after some slight modifications to the reductions, the county waived about $275,000 in fees.

The basics of the updated proposal would remove traffic impact fees and permit fees for non-residential developments in the county, presumably cutting costs for developers and -- therefore -- generating more development. The fee waivers would remain in place as long as Clark County's unemployment rate is above the state's level, a place where it has resided since 2000.

As mentioned, there are some merits to the proposal. Any idea that can be promoted as creating jobs is worth a second look, and we will watch with interest as all three county commissioners have pledged to introduce amendments to the proposal when it is discussed again on June 11.

But, until then, the idea is worthy of consideration but not support. For now, we must agree with the four county employees -- including three elected officials -- who chose to express concerns about the plan at Wednesday's board time meeting with commissioners.

Auditor Greg Kimsey and Assessor Peter Van Nortwick, both Republicans, were joined by Treasurer Doug Lasher, a Democrat, and John Fairgrieve, chief deputy to Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik, in raising important questions about the plan.

What they learned, according to an article by Columbian reporter Erik Hidle, is that their questions have few answers at this point. As Commissioner David Madore said, officials don't know how many jobs the proposal would create.

Kimsey told the commissioners: "You have linked this resolution to the impact on the county, back to increased sales-tax revenues. So, I would hope that a core part of your measure of success is going to be based on sales-tax revenues coming to the county that are in excess of what the budget office … has currently forecasted going forward."

That bottom line as far as the proposal goes is, well, the bottom line. And while the plan might or might not generate jobs in the county, it certainly will transfer a portion of the financial burden to taxpayers. Development requires infrastructure, and the costs of the infrastructure that are not paid by developers are, by definition, picked up by residents.

It's like a group enjoying a meal at a fancy restaurant, and then one member of the party doesn't pay their part of the bill. That leaves everybody else at the table to pick up their tab. It's inherently unfair, especially after the cheapskate enjoyed the benefits of the dinner.

Madore, during his campaign for a seat on the county commission, promised to "open the floodgates" of jobs to Clark County, and we are reluctant to quash any creative ideas designed to do just that.

But until there is some evidence that this plan will unleash a tidal wave of employment, until there are some concrete numbers for just how many jobs would need to be created in order to offset the loss of revenue to the county, this proposal should not advance beyond the discussion stage.