Pierce County weighs higher fees

Aaron Corvin; The News Tribune


Pierce County, WA If you build homes, fly a plane, golf or need a fire safety inspection in the near future, then start reaching for your wallet.

Pierce County is proposing more than 280 new and increased fees as part of its work to craft an overall budget serving everything from law enforcement to public works and land-use planning.

Altogether, the fee increases would net the county roughly $3.6 million in revenue over the next three to five years. All of the fees would take effect early next year.

The County Council will consider the fee proposals Tuesday.

The proposed increases are embedded in County Executive John Ladenburg's budget proposal. In the overall budget, which includes building projects and roads, the county executive would cut roughly 36 staff positions - mostly in nonpublic safety departments - and add 23 positions, most of which are in public safety. The proposed budget increases spending by 0.6 percent from this year.

"This budget reprioritizes into public safety," Ladenburg said.

Meanwhile, the proposed fee increases would raise money for a variety of purposes in different county departments and facilities, including Planning and Land Services, the Pierce County Airport, parks and recreation, and the Fire Prevention Bureau.

Unlike general taxes, fees are paid directly by those who use the services, although fees to build homes can be passed on to consumers. In most cases, the money raised from the proposed fee increases would not go into the county's proposed $222.6 million general fund - the only part of the county's total $737 million budget that the county can adjust.

Instead, the money would go back into the operation or maintenance of the facility or department at which it was raised.

The Pierce County Airport, for example, would raise more than $37,000 over the next several years from increased fees for using hangars and storage rooms, among other things. The money would help maintain airport facilities.

"The last rental increase was in January 2001," said Rob Willis, administrative services manager for the Public Works and Utilities Department. "The average rate increase is 8 percent. It's consistent with the industry. We're definitely not above the cost in the marketplace."

The Planning and Land Services Department would reap the most from increases - as much as $600,000 a year.

While the money would go into the general fund, the county plans to use most of the revenue from increased land-use fees to hire seven staff members: four civil engineers, two office assistants and one planner. Hiring those employees is estimated to cost about $500,000.

Officials said the larger staff will enable the county to clear a backlog of developers' residential and commercial building applications.

Before issuing permits, engineers must review building proposals to make sure developers control stormwater runoff and soil erosion, among other things.

On average, those reviews took 250 days last year. The county's goal is to reduce the average review time by 25 percent - to 190 days by the end of 2003.

Additional environmental regulations and the size of projects have made it difficult for engineers to keep up with applications, officials said.

"We've got a whole list of projects we're considering that we're behind on," said Mitch Brells, development engineering supervisor for the county. "We've got engineers working on projects that were due in May of this year. Generally, we like to be turning things around much sooner than six or seven months."

The increased fees would apply to both commercial and residential development proposals in unincorporated Pierce County. For example, the environmental assessment fee for a residential development of more than 200 lots would increase from $1,750 to $1,950.

Rick Brunaugh, president of the Master Builders Association of Pierce County, said the fee increases aren't a problem for his organization.

"If it speeds up time, we could win," he said. "It could be a positive."

Brells said the backlog encompasses large, more complicated commercial and residential projects that take longer to review. Smaller projects, such as a single-family home, are being reviewed on time.

"If you look at all the permits that get applied for, 93 percent of them do get out in the time frames they're suppose to," Brells said.

Aaron Corvin: 253-552-7058


SIDEBAR: You can get involved

The Pierce County Council is to discuss - and possibly adopt - its 2003 budget at 3 p.m. Tuesday in Room 1045 at the County-City Building, 930 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma.

SIDEBAR: Proposed county fee increases

Pierce County is proposing more than 280 new and existing fee increases as part of its 2003 budget. Here are the departments, facilities and some of their fee proposals:

The filing fee for Pierce County Superior Court's mandatory arbitration program would increase from $120 to $220.

Fees at Pierce County Airport would increase as follows: one to 50 hangars per month, from $130.27 to $140.91; tie downs per month, $37.22 to $39.88; storage rooms per month, $31.90 to $34.56; office per square foot, $16 to $30.

More than 30 fees would increase at Lake Spanaway and Fort Steilacoom golf courses. For example, the fee for 18 holes of golf at Lake Spanaway Golf Course would go from $22.50 to $23.25. At Fort Steilacoom Golf Course the fee for 18 holes would increase from $17.50 to $18.

More than 120 either new or increased permit and inspection fees are planned at the Pierce County Fire Prevention Bureau, which is responsible for reducing the threat of fire by inspecting businesses, reviewing commercial plans and responding to complaints. Proposed increases in fire code inspection fees range from a $3 increase in the $52 fee for a 1,000- to 1,999-square-foot building to a $50 increase in the $450 fee for a 200,000-square-foot or larger building.

More than 130 new fees and existing fee increases are included for the Planning and Land Services Department, which processes building proposals for unincorporated Pierce County, enforces the conditions of approved land-use proposals and plans for growth. Increases in environmental assessment fees include $200 increases in the $450 fee for a single-family home and the $1,550 fee for a residential development of 101 to 200 lots.


I would guess the same thing is going on in every level of government in this state. Government has no intention to reduce the level of government - it only intends to increase taxes so it can continue business as usual. The only *cuts* we will see or hear of are those that will impact BASIC services. What is government doing operating *airports* and *golf courses*? Where are those items listed in the state constitution as a job of government? That is direct competition with private enterprise just like the sale of booze in the state is. Government, at all levels, must be removed from competing with what is the rightful job of private enterprise.
Each of these intrusions into the private sector is done for the REVENUE that government can generate from them. That is not the job of government but it goes on because the people feel helpless to fight it or fail to understand what *government* is supposed to do as opposed to what it is doing.

I find the headline "WEIGHS higher fees" kind of funny. They now WEIGH the taxes and fees instead of COUNTING them. That should tell you they are pretty HEAVY!!!

Jackie Juntti
WGEN idzrus@earthlink.net


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