Council slashed development fees and red tape

Published on Thu, Apr 11, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Council slashed development fees and red tape

By Meg Olson

City council voted to peel off the first layer of municipal codes and fees in what staff promises will be a complete overhaul.

“The city of Blaine recently undertook the most exhaustive review of fees in Whatcom County,” said city manager Gary Tomsic, opening the April 8 public meeting in the first phase of land development fee review. “Over the next few months we’ll take each section and implement them in a phased approach.”

City planner Russell Nelson said his department was following up on complaints that city fees for new development were too high, putting a damper on local growth. “We are one of the higher fee chargers in Whatcom County,” Nelson concluded, “primarily due to high utility connection fees.”

While they were reviewing fees, planning division director Terry Galvin said they took the opportunity to clean up a tangled city code. “It’s been pieced together,” he said. “You have fees approved by ordinances buried in various sections with varying language. We have a lot of conflicting language that does the opposite of what we’re trying to do – stimulate business.”

The first batch of changes starts with an overhaul of city policies that guide planners in setting building fees, impact fees, utility assessments and planning fees. “One of the things we want to start doing is reviewing these annually as part of the budget process,” Nelson said.

All the fees in those categories were put on one list, duplications were cut out and fees adjusted to better reflect staff time, Nelson said. “It’s bringing all these fees to a single source. It’s all in one spot, no surprises.”
The list of 50 city fees for land development was cut almost in half and a dozen fees were reduced. Substantial changes were made to how the city charges for shoreline development review. Ten fee levels were reduced to five and hundreds of dollars were shaved off the cost of reviews. The charge for a lot line adjustment was cut in half to $75 and the cost of reviewing the binding site plan for a subdivision dropped by $400. “We’re trying to reduce the list and make them a little more cost effective,” Nelson said.

No members spoke at the public meeting, but city council members applauded the changes before voting to approve them. “I think it’s a very positive move,” said Bruce Wolf. “It simplifies things and makes our staff more accessible to developers.”

In other business, council members set an April 22 public hearing on the city’s five-year stormwater capital improvement plan. The plan uses funds collected by the city stormwater utility, county flood tax and federal and state grants to improve how runoff is managed. Blaine property owners pay $4 per month for a standard residential unit to the stormwater utility.
This year the stormwater plan projects spending $100,000 on upgrading storm drains and building a retention pond as part of the planned reconstruction of 6th Street. “We’ll provide good connections along 6th for people to connect to stormwater so hopefully we’ll reduce the amount of inflow in the sanitary sewer,” said assistant public works director Steve Banham. From 2003 to 2007 $20,000 per year are earmarked to continue separating stormwater and sewer in an effort to eliminate sewage overflows triggered by heavy rains.

As city streets are upgraded during the next five years, stormwater dollars will be used to put in new drains, detention ponds and treatment stations. “Stormwater improvements go hand in hand with street improvements,” Banham said. Overall, the plan projects spending $735,000 over the next five years on stormwater projects.

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