May 21, 2009 in Washington Voices

Airway Heights seeks fee restructuring

City officials say planning, building charges need to be updated
Ryan Lancaster Correspondent
 

Fast facts

Some fees would increase by just a few dollars while others, such as the final plan review for long subdivisions, would jump from $10 to nearly $700. A few of the fees would also decrease under the proposal.

Airway Heights city leaders are deliberating on a plan to raise various building and planning fees, first proposed during a May 7 City Council meeting.

Some fees would increase by just a few dollars while others, such as the final plan review for long subdivisions, would jump from $10 to nearly $700. A few of the fees would also decrease under the proposal.

“At this juncture the fees haven’t been updated since 2001 and we’re just looking to recoup some of our costs,” said City Manager Albert Tripp.

Assistant city planner Derrick Braaten said an analysis of the current fee structure has been going on since he arrived in 2007. “It’s been in the works for a long time. We decided rather than go piecemeal we’d do it all at once to get a resolution.”

Braaten said current planning fees are significantly lower than other cities in the area and don’t take into account employee costs and materials. Building fees are being brought up to speed with the International Building Code, which is now the major code used nationwide. Airway Heights has up to now employed the Uniform Building Code, although it hasn’t seen wide use since the late ’90s, said Braaten.

Mayor Matthew Pederson said one reason the current fees may be lower than others in the region is that the city eliminated surcharges and administration costs after a study of the fee structure a few years ago. He cited the example of a 22 percent surcharge on all permit fees. “We couldn’t find any basis for this, and nobody knew what it was for so we streamlined the process and put it in line for services delivered,” he said.

Pederson disagrees with a rate hike, saying that the more recent analysis makes assumptions based on employee costs which are often paid for by means other than fees.

In response to a question about the effect a fee hike might have on growth in the city, Braaten said, “Some developers may balk at the fee increases but they would have balked at a five-cent increase. These are developers that have razor-thin profit margins.”

Edie Streicher, government affairs director for the Spokane Home Builders Association, said that with the economy in a slump, any fee hikes have the potential of making homes unaffordable for a first time buyer. “We understand that city leaders need to provide for the city, but they also need to take into account what this could mean for homebuyers,” she said.

In the past year Streicher said the builders association has fought similar fee restructuring in four other jurisdictions.

“Our focus is keeping housing affordable and unfortunately these increases seem to be a trend,” she said.

Pedersen said his major concern with the proposal isn’t its effect on developers, but on residents engaging in things like home remodels. “The impact is much greater to individual citizens than to developers who can pass the fees along to the consumer,” said Pederson. “This could impact their quality of life and the city shouldn’t encumber that.”

The city’s finance and community economic development committees have made recommendations on the fees and are now waiting for further input before moving the item forward.

Reach correspondent Ryan Lancaster by e-mail at rklancaster1@yahoo.com.


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