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News / Clark County News

Clark County Council OKs ordinance allowing fire districts to collect impact fees

Fire District 6 chief says district won't pursue fees at this time

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 8, 2024, 7:42pm
2 Photos
Clark County Fire District 6 Fire Chief Kristan Maurer stands in front of a new fire engine July 13 at Station 62. She said Wednesday that her district doesn';t plan to pursue a development impact fee newly allowed by county code.
Clark County Fire District 6 Fire Chief Kristan Maurer stands in front of a new fire engine July 13 at Station 62. She said Wednesday that her district doesn';t plan to pursue a development impact fee newly allowed by county code. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

With little discussion, the Clark County Council this week unanimously approved an ordinance allowing fire districts to collect development impact fees.

While the state Growth Management Act allows local governments to collect impact fees to ensure there is enough infrastructure in place to service new development, county code included only transportation, park and school impact fees.

County councilors adopted the new ordinance on Tuesday. It won’t automatically put the new fees in place but instead lets fire districts request the fees in their capital facilities plan.

Clark County Fire District 6 Fire Chief Kristan Maurer said her district won’t be pursuing the impact fees, at least not right away.

“We have other funding mechanisms at this time. We have a levy lid lift coming up on the (Aug. 6) ballot so we’re going to look at that funding,” Maurer said Wednesday.

Maurer said the county will hold informational meetings with the fire chiefs to explain the process more fully. While the district won’t be turning to impact fees for funding, Maurer supports the idea.

“We continually ask the residents in our community that have paid taxes to keep paying more. What the impact fees do is allow new residents or new projects to pay into the impact fees so we, potentially, don’t have to ask the current residents for more,” she said.

According to county planner Bart Catching, the fire districts asked for the code changes in 2023. A draft of the new code was reviewed by the county planning commission in September, at a council work session in January and was given a public hearing in February.

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“It’s clear that our existing fees have not been challenged. They’ve been on the books for a long time. The intent of the proposed code updates was just to have fire fees look like the other fees, specifically schools, and meet state rules,” Catching said during the February hearing.

Clark County Fire District 3 Fire Chief Scott Sorenson was one of several fire chiefs at the public hearing. He said the impact fees are needed to keep pace with the county’s growing population, which has led to increased demand for service.

Since 2016, Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue’s call volume has increased by 54 percent, Fire District 6 is up by 56 percent and District 3 increased by 25 percent.

Sorenson said he’s also heard from residents that they are tired of paying for new projects, especially if a project supports new residents or a new development. That leads some residents to vote against levies.

“Over 90 percent of our funding is from fire levies. We don’t have a lot of methods to pull in revenue,” Sorenson told the council. “This proposal is a small drop in the bucket compared to what it costs to provide services.”

Sorenson said the district will have more than $22 million in capital needs over the next 20 years and levies simply cannot cover the costs.

Councilor Glen Yung lobbied, albeit unsuccessfully, to include language limiting how the impact fees can be used to fund public projects. During the hearing, Yung said the code changes need to match state law requirements and limit the percentage of impact fee dollars that can be used for public projects.

“I’ve been involved in an impact fee conversation in a different jurisdiction where 94 percent of the capital projects were being funded using (impact fee) dollars,” Yung said, adding the county should limit the funding portion to 50 percent.

State law requires project funding to be balanced and not come from a single source, but it doesn’t define what the percentages should be, county attorney Christine Cook said. Cook also said the county will be able to review this and other issues when the districts bring their capital facilities plans to the council for review.

To watch the Feb. 27 public hearing and Tuesday council meeting, go to https://clark.wa.gov/councilors/clark-county-council-meetings.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.