County officials delay decision on fees

Testimony focuses on effect to budget

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

After listening to more than three hours of testimony, the Clark County Board of Commissioners Tuesday approved tabling a resolution that would extend a slate of incentives intended to spur business development, including waiving impact and traffic fees.

In front of a packed house of onlookers, who'd come to comment on the proposal and remark on the hiring of state Sen. Don Benton as the county's director of environmental services, commissioners voted to push back the resolution until May 28 at 10 a.m.

But not before Commissioner David Madore argued for addressing, individually, the comments made by each of the dozens of speakers who testified, the majority of whom were against the proposal. "We need to methodically address this," Madore said.

The suggestion elicited boos and catcalls from the audience, who loudly accused Madore of stalling.

With the additional time, county staff will investigate aspects of the proposal, including how to implement the traffic impact fee waiver in accordance with state law. "There are many, many steps to this proposal," Commissioner Tom Mielke said. "I would really like to wait."

In February, commissioners approved a fee holiday for certain business; it's set to expire at the end of September. The proposal before the commissioners would extend the holiday to the end of the year.

Under the fee holiday, the county would wave 100 percent of fees for development projects.

The proposal would eliminate the current fee holiday's job-creating requirement. It would also enact a monitoring program to report to the board every six weeks.

While proponents of the fee holiday say it would act as an incentive for developers, create jobs and thereby help the county's bottom line, opponents say it's tantamount to giving handouts to developers.

"There's not one scintilla of evidence in the record to show you'll break even on this," land use lawyer John Karpinski said, addressing the commissioners. "This is corporate welfare for the rich."

Contractors say waiving fees, or drastically reducing them, would relieve some of the up-front financial pressure they feel developing projects.

Roy Heikkala, who's worked as a contractor since the 1970s, said he wanted to make Clark County a friendly place for builders by instituting "reasonable fees."

He said during the renovation of Summit Grove Lodge, near La Center, developers paid about $50,000 in permit fees and $200,000 in engineering costs.

"It's a stopgap measure if this is only for a year," he said. "We have to pay for government services, but we don't have to be excessive."