PORT TOWNSEND — It will cost more to obtain permits and use some services at the Jefferson County Department of Community Development beginning in April.
The county commissioners unanimously agreed Monday to approve the department’s proposed fee schedule ordinance with a modification at a public hearing that saw only one person provide testimony.
The snowy weather was a deterrent to public participation, but commissioners proceeded with approval of the modifications with County Administrator Philip Morley explaining that, “you can always amend an ordinance.”
Planning Manager Austin Watkins and Jodi Adams — Permit, Building and Administration manager — provided a detailed overview of the modifications, saying that the rates were consistent with neighboring counties.
Some of the fees are necessary to capture permit and application costs through charges such as application and review for land use and building permits. The fees include updates to match recent legislative changes modifications based upon applications and services.
The increase in the overall hourly fee from $92 to $94 is based on the Consumer Price Index rounded to the nearest dollar.
There was one fee that proved controversial for the commissioners: a proposed 50 percent penalty fee assessment in addition to the base building fee for building without a permit.
According to Department of Community Development (DCD) documentation, many code enforcement complaints come in each year about unpermitted structures. A penalty fee would be an incentive to obtain permits upfront, rather than to come into compliance, staff members said.
Commissioner Greg Brotherton was concerned that the fees needed more clarification and discussion.
“I feel there is a tension between the permit process and the public,” Brotherton said. “We need to work on it. I don’t know if this is the right time to slap a fee on. I think the message we send to the public is not the one we want to send right now.”
Commissioners Kate Dean and David Sullivan agreed with Brotherton and pulled the fee from the final ordinance language. The county will discuss code compliance in the near future and the commissioners thought this fee would be better addressed during that conversation.
Watkins said the new menu services include the boundary line agreement which is a four-hour case review, lot certification that was done historically but did not have a codified fee will now have a four-hour base fee; a hearing examiner fee of $1,250 per Type III application requiring adjudication by the hearing examiner or appeal; and a miscellaneous hourly fee of $94 charged for services and reviews not listed in the fee schedule.
Additionally, there is a base fee of 23 hours for a commercial shooting facility operating permit which is specified in Chapter 8.50 of the Jefferson County Code.
“This charge is a result of Title 8 which gives us legislative authority to charge a fee and has to do with health and safety,” Watkins said.
A modification of services and reviews includes a waiver of special reports that is increased to three hours of the base fee from two hours. A site plan approval advanced determination has been deleted from the schedule.
Watkins said the hearing examiner fee is a new charge for DCD.
“It is in keeping with rates charged by Clallam, Mason and Kitsap counties,” Watkins said. “It is based on our actual costs last year.”
He said the charge will be $125, which is in addition to any community development fees such as public hearing and board notices.
“Currently, the hearing examiner is paid for though general funds,” he said. “The applicant will pay their fair share of permit or application adjudication and this is consistent with other counties in the state.”
Watkins said the CDC customer assistance meetings are meant to be a single, free 15-minute meeting per parcel per year but typically extends beyond that time and is not billed.
Recent monitoring and tracking revealed that the “free” meetings cost the department about $40,000 of employee time.
He said most jurisdictions “do this at little or no charge” and gave the example of the “Planner of the Day” in Kitsap County. There’s the planner of the day in Kitsap.
“It has to be supported and paid for by somebody,” he said. “If someone does a DCD consult and builds within a year, we will apply those staff consult fees to the building permits.”
“The problem for us is that we have some budget problems,” Watkins said. “This is an area we could save some money on.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]