County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a significant increase in land-use application processing fees but decided at the last minute put them at 85 percent of their first proposal.
They voted on the measure after hearing more than an hour of public comment from local developers, civil engineers and land surveyors, most of whom agreed that the fees needed to be updated, but felt that the county was being hasty and needed more input from the community.
The fee increase was proposed to help reduce the county Planning Division’s dependence on subsidies from the county’s taxpayer-supported general fund. Other than adjustments for inflation, the fees haven’t changed since 1990.
Last year, the department collected $150,000 in application fees, while the county contributed $1.4 million to support the Planning Division, according to Steve Erickson, division director.
Erickson estimated that about 40 percent of his staff’s time last year was spent on processing applications.
The fees cover a series of land-use and subdivision permit applications, such as a short plat preliminary application. A short plat is the term for a subdivision of fewer than four lots and is commonly used by farmers who want to create a new lot on their property for themselves or a family member.
Under the old fee structure, the application cost $360; at 85 percent of the new fee structure, it will cost $1,015.75.
A shoreline conditional use permit, which is required in areas adjacent to rivers, lakes, ponds and streams, cost $375 under the old structure. Now, it will cost $3,140.75 — down from the originally proposed increase to $3,695.
Developers worry the increase will result in fewer applications in Yakima County, and said that clients already complain about the long, complex application process.
Tom Upton, a land surveyor, said he submitted two almost indentical application packets on Monday, which included a survey, boundary line adjustment, short plat and administrative adjustment. The application fee was $880 apiece, while the fee charged to each client was about $3,000.
Now, he said, the county would charge more than $3,500 each to review the same applications he prepared for less.
“We’ve finally tipped over where it costs more for the county to review an application than it takes to prepare it, along with the survey,” he said. Meanwhile, applications since 1990 have become “a volume,” requiring much more paperwork.
“I’m not arguing that time is spent, but is that time that we really need?” he asked the commissioners. “We have to keep in mind that these requirements we’re trying to comply with are all generated on the same floor that they’re being reviewed. Maybe we’re asking too much.”
Along with adjusting the proposal to 85 percent of the original increase, the commissioners agreed to revisit the new fees in six months, on Sept. 10. They’re depending on developers and other stakeholders to provide public comment at that meeting to help determine if the new fees have resulted in better customer service from the Planning Division.
Meanwhile, a new tracking system that went into effect Jan. 2 will continue to establish the average cost to the department of processing applications. Once that data has been reviewed, commissioners will know whether they need to adjust the fees up or down.
“We can’t charge more than it costs us,” commissioner Rand Elliot said.
Officials estimate that the new fees, at 85 percent, should generate close to $470,000 for the year, which would constitute about a third of the Planning Division’s budget.
• Molly Rosbach can be reached at 509-577-7728 or email@example.com.