The plan to raise planning and building fees in Liberty Lake was debated again at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, with the council narrowly approving the most expensive option.
In previous discussions council members all agreed that the fees needed to be changed, since they haven’t been adjusted since the city was formed in 2001. City staff had considered four different fee options and recommended the fourth and most expensive option, which gave several council members pause. This week’s discussion focused on whether to use that option or the cheaper third option.
In some cases, there were thousands of dollars in difference between the same fee in option three versus option four. For example, the proposed conditional use permit fee was $875 in option three and $2,500 in option four. The city currently charges $436. Other fees were more comparable, such as the proposed $450 and $400 charges for a temporary use permit.
Council member Patrick Jenkins said the fourth option more closely resembled the market rate. “It’s relatively consistent with other entities,” he said.
Council member Odin Langford said he objected to vague language in several parts of the new ordinance to raise fees, particularly where it referred to fees based on “the discretion of staff.”
“I’m not sure it’s the best wording we could use,” he said. “I think that’s going to be problematic down the road.”
He acknowledged that the fees needed to be changed, but thought the fees proposed in the fourth option were excessive. “There’s no reason for us to go from zero to 100 at once,” he said. “It puts us out of the ballpark.”
Council member Neal Olander said that while he hadn’t studied the proposal extensively, he had faith in the finance committee, which also recommended the fourth option. “The finance committee has studied this in detail,” he said.
Council member Susan Schuler called the new fees “outlandish.”
“I’ve been sitting on my hands so I wouldn’t comment, but I have to comment,” she said. “I think it’s more important that we’re business-friendly.”
At previous meetings representatives of Greenstone Corp., the largest developer in Liberty Lake, had spoken against the fee proposal. No one spoke against it Tuesday night even though three Greenstone representatives were in the audience.
On Tuesday afternoon, however, Greenstone project manager Drew Benado sent an e-mail to City Council members asking them not to approve the higher fees. “Any fee increase will be passed along to the end user, whether it is the homeowner buying a house or a commercial user purchasing raw land,” he wrote. He added that the combined cost of permitting fees, general facilities charges and construction materials push the sales price up.
Olander said he didn’t buy that argument. “I don’t believe that’s true,” he said. “I believe house prices are set by market conditions in the region.”
Council member David Crump suggested a combination of options three and four. “We have to go somewhere,” he said.
Jenkins made a motion to approve the fourth option, which was approved on a 4-3 vote. Council members Schuler, Crump and Langford voted against it.
In other business, new City Council member Ryan Romney was sworn in. His wife and five children arrived to the meeting several minutes after it began, hoping to see the ceremony. “We’ve already done the oath of office,” said Mayor Wendy Van Orman. “If you like we can do it again.”
Crump was elected mayor pro tem to fill out the rest of the term vacated by the resignation of Brian Sayrs. The mayor pro tem fills in for the mayor when she is absent. Crump was the only council member nominated and was approved unanimously. His term extends to the end of the year.
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