Pierce County weighs higher fees
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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!!!