News

DCD proposes fee hike

By CHARLIE BERMANT

Kitsap County writer

As part of an effort to make the Department of Community Development (DCD) economically self-sustaining, Kitsap County officials are examining a proposal that would readjust the permit fee schedule.

“We have been saying that fees will go up,” said DCD Director Larry Keeton. “The board of commissioners need to approve or disapprove these proposals, which they have not done yet. The proposal needs to be vetted with the commissioners and the public.”

While the commissioners will discuss the proposal next month, Keeton said public hearings could begin as early as January.

Keeton, who has submitted a detailed outline of the potential fee restructuring, said he discussed the topic with the commissioners in October, but “they haven’t had time to digest it yet.”

The first step in determining fee structures involves research and data gathering. For this, the DCD is polling all of its employees about the specific permits and how much time it takes.

The time spent is then converted into the fee to be charged.

With this in mind, the department has outlined six guiding principles for the new fee structure:

• Fees should be regionally competitive while allowing for timely, high-quality service delivery by staff.

• Fee-based services are defined as operations related to permit/application processing, inspections, plan reviews, state Environmental Policy Act documents, land-use appeals and code enforcement.

• Applicants should pay for the services received.

Fees shall include direct and indirect costs associated with service delivery

• The funding structure should support the department’s operations through economic cycles and fluctuations in workload.

• Fees should be predictable and understandable to the customer.

• The fee system should be efficient and cost-effective to manage.

Keeton said when a new house is built, the county will charge a permit fee and a plan review fee, which is now $2,776 for the average home cost of $222,659.

The suggested range, which has some wiggle room, is published bi-annually by the International Code Committee. Here, local jurisdictions are given a table that tells them what fees they can charge in relation to the home’s value.

Home Builders Association Executive Vice President Art Castle said the fee process had already improved DCD efficiency, because it has caused the department to examine its cost.

“Larry Keeton and (assistant director) Jeff Rowe-Hornbaker have made some giant steps in increasing the quality of customer service and getting rid of the backlog,” Castle said.

He noted that determining how long each permit takes and assigning it a value will increase the transparency of the department. Castle also said his constituency has different reactions to an increase.

“There are some people who don’t want to see fees go up,” he said, “while others are willing to pay more as long as they are getting a high level of service.”

Keeton said the fee level needs to be realistic and sustain the department even if there are no permits coming in.

“We can’t increase fees at a moment’s notice in order to attract more good people,” he said. “The new fee levels need to sustain us between good times and bad times.”

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