Monday, November 29, 2021
Nov. 29, 2021

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Clark County Public Health proposes new fees for services

Board of Health to rule on 125 changes sought by agency

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Beginning in January, Clark County residents will likely find new fees in place for Public Health environmental services such as inspections and site reviews for new wells, septic systems or pools.

On Wednesday, Public Health will present a list of nearly 125 proposed fee changes to the Board of Health for approval.

“This is an annual process in conjunction with our budget. Each year when our budget is submitted, we review projections that impact the fees,” said Jeff Harbison, administrative services director for Public Health.

Public Health is tasked with monitoring public water systems, reviewing plans for new systems and wells and providing maintenance resources to property owners. Costs for those activities, which can’t be paid for from the general fund, are passed on to county residents in the form of fees.

Making calculations

Each year, Public Health departments submit the next year’s budgets, which are then used to calculate its fees, Harbison explained. According to the proposal, the fees are based on the amount of staff time needed plus associated costs, such as phone, rent, mileage, overhead, benefits and time spent in trainings and meetings.

“There are things that are considered as offsetting revenue which reduces the cost base. A great example would be in the food safety program; we receive revenue for food handler cards that are purchased by residents of Clark County,” he said.

Another example would be environmental health assessment fees related to activities under the school health and safety program, which are offset by state public health grants.

Any revenue the department takes in is then deducted from the expenses to determine the fee cost base.

“It’s what are the program costs less any offsetting revenue, how much work do we think we’ll be doing and then how long will that take. We then take the remaining cost base — again, that total cost less the program income — and come up with what basically amounts to an hourly rate, then however long each of those services are predicted to take. That’s how we come up with the individual fees,” Harbison said.

He also noted there is no profit factor built into the model, which has been in effect since 2004 and has been reviewed and approved by the Washington State Auditor’s office.

Some fees will only change by a couple of dollars. For example, the post-construction variance fee for swimming pools will be $272 rather than the $271 previously charged. A facility permit for a float tank will be $409, an increase of $3.

Other fees will see larger changes. For example, a plan review for a pool or spa will be $1,567 under the new fee structure, a decrease of more than 17 percent from the current fee of $1,896. At the same time, the fee for an on-site soil and site evaluation for a septic system will increase by around 7 percent to $1,415.

As he’s seen in other years with fee changes, Harbison said he doesn’t expect the new rates to have a significant impact on the number of requests coming into the department. He said it’s other outside factors, like the 2008 recession, that tend to have a bigger impact.

“I haven’t seen large variations in business based on our fees; 2008, 2009 comes to mind when the economy ground to a halt— our programs that rely on construction activity definitely felt the brunt of that economic downturn,” he said.

Once the Board of Health approves the new fee structure, all related budget impacts will be sent to the county council for approval.

For the full list of proposed fee changes, go to https://bit.ly/3mfDxAk.

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