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Sunday, December 3, 2023
Dec. 3, 2023

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County audit critical of fee waiver for developers

County board urged to eliminate, significantly change the program

3 Photos
Clark County Commissioners Tom Mielke, from left, and David Madore
Clark County Commissioners Tom Mielke, from left, and David Madore Photo Gallery

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey on Tuesday officially released his department’s report on the county’s Job Creation-Fee Waiver program. The release of the highly critical report had been postponed for weeks due to County Commissioner David Madore’s desire to spearhead an “independent analysis” of the audit’s findings.

Though Madore and fellow Republican Commissioner Tom Mielke had championed the fee waivers, the audit recommends the commissioners eliminate the program or make significant changes in order to improve its effectiveness. Following the release of the audit, Madore handed out an unsigned response, later uploaded to the county’s website. Because he did not choose to submit it prior to the audit’s release, it will not become part of the final report.

Kimsey said his office was under the impression the commissioners would not issue a response.

“(Commissioners) did have an opportunity to respond, and unfortunately they didn’t do so,” Kimsey said.

Created in 2013, the fee waiver program’s stated intent is to spur development and promote job creation by eliminating permit application and traffic impact fees on commercial building projects. Those costs are instead borne by taxpayers.

However, the audit paints the program as ineffective and costly. According to the report, the program has waived $7.8 million in fees, the majority of which — between $4.6 and $6.9 million — were awarded to projects that would have been built anyway. Of the 115 jobs created as a result of new development, most came in low-wage food, consumer service or retail sectors.

“(Evidence) shows many of the fee waivers awarded are not driving business growth or new jobs,” Kimsey said.

Community Development Director Marty Snell, who helps oversee the commissioners’ program, did file an official response. It said he would welcome an opportunity to modify the program at the direction of the commissioners.

Release of the audit came a month-and-a-half after it was completed and passed along to the commissioners. While the commissioners had expressed interest in responding to the audit — Madore in particular — that idea disappeared in favor of conducting an independent analysis.

Madore asked that his Tuesday statement be considered the commissioners’ official response to the audit, but was rebuffed by Kimsey, who said the commissioners had ample time to respond to the audit’s findings.

The response Madore handed out says it contains “commissioner conclusions contrasted by those asserted by the auditor for the same data.”

Madore’s response culls from economic analyses conducted by Scott Bailey, regional economist with the Employment Security Department, concluding that since commissioners implemented the fee waiver program, the county’s employment growth over the past 12 months remained at more than 4 percent.

“Clark County should become the most business-friendly community on the West Coast. Gain a competitive edge over other communities encouraging business decision makers to conclude that ‘This is the time and this is the place,'” the response reads. It concludes that opposition to the fee waiver program would be a continuation of the status quo.

Larry Stafford, an internal auditor for the county, said the audit report’s findings could be reviewed in the next six months to a year. At that time, Madore’s response could come into play, he said.

He said he had yet to thoroughly review the response, as he first became aware of it on Tuesday.

“We’re hoping to understand it more and look into it,” Stafford said.

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