It is impossible to put a timetable on economic recovery, but we can hope that the philosophy of Clark County commissioners will pay off in jobs this year.
Many factors lie beyond the scope of county government when it comes to creating jobs; heck, many factors lie beyond the scope of any governmental body when it comes to creating jobs. Economic cycles are far too complex to rest on the shoulders of a county commission, but officials have taken a proactive approach in the belief that reducing development fees can boost the local economy.
The latest move by the Clark County Board of Commissioners is the renewal of a freeze on impact fees for residential construction. Commissioners adopted the idea in 2010 and have extended it each year since. This week, they voted 3-0 to approve the lowered fees once again, leading Commissioner David Madore to say, "The rate of development out there is very healthy. Hopefully, locking the rate in will be another incentive."
As explained in an article by Columbian reporter Erin Middlewood, if a developer subdivided land in Mount Vista for houses in 2005 but hasn't started construction, fees would be at the 2005 rate of $3,043 instead of the current rate of $6,795 if construction started today. Commissioner Steve Stuart said, "The decision was made not to punish those builders for being stuck in tough times."
The waiver for fees on residential construction is different from — but ideologically related to — the county's decision last year to eliminate all traffic impact and permit fees for nonresidential development. That proposal, which was passed in June with support from Madore and Tom Mielke while Stuart voted against it, was designed to lure new businesses to Clark County and encourage existing businesses to expand. The theory is that additional economic activity in the county would increase jobs, boost commerce, and expand the tax base enough to offset the elimination of fees, although that theory was greeted by doubts from the county auditor, the county assessor and the county treasurer.
"You have linked this resolution to the impact on the county back to increased sales-tax revenues," county Auditor Greg Kimsey told commissioners at the time. "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."
Now is the time for the county to start answering whether or not that has happened. As The Columbian wrote editorially last June, "The bottom line is, well, the bottom line." Whether it is a freeze in fees for residential development or the elimination of fees for business development, growth requires infrastructure and infrastructure requires money. If developers are not paying for it, then taxpayers are picking up the tab, and commissioners must be able to accurately measure whether those taxpayers are getting a good return on their investment.
That return can be measured in the county's tax revenue and, especially, the number of jobs coming to the area — particularly because the plan is to eliminate the nonresidential development fees as long as Clark County's unemployment rate exceeds the state level. The county commission cannot be held wholly responsible for that ethereal goal, nor can a firm timetable be placed upon it. But we can hope that progress will be demonstrated in the coming year and that commissioners can demonstrate whether their fee reductions are beneficial to residents.