County council passes two fee increase ordinances

VANCOUVER — Two new county ordinances associated with Clark County sheriff’s office and fire marshal fees were passed by members of the Clark County Board of Councilors on Tuesday.

The first ordinance passed increased fees associated with civil fees for litigation carried out by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. According to Chief Civil Deputy Steve Shea, the sheriff’s office has an “obligation to provide for civil process.” This means that the sheriff can serve summons or handle evictions on behalf of a landlord, Shea said.

Shea said that the fee increases were proposed because “the taxpayers shouldn’t have to provide for that process.” Additionally, Washington state law allows for the sheriff’s office to provide fee schedules to recover the costs related to civil litigation.

However, Shea said that the state law does not provide sufficient funds to cover all costs.

Clark County Chair Marc Boldt and his fellow councilors voted Tuesday to increase fees associated with private litigation for the sheriff’s office and also to increase fire marshal fees associated with inspection of new construction projects. Photo by Mike Schultz
Clark County Chair Marc Boldt and his fellow councilors voted Tuesday to increase fees associated with private litigation for the sheriff’s office and also to increase fire marshal fees associated with inspection of new construction projects. Photo by Mike Schultz

In 2009, action by the county council provided a new fee schedule that covered approximately 55 percent of the cost of the civil unit, which Shea said was “about the right mix of what we should be charging for.”

According to a staff report released by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, increasing labor costs since 2009 have meant that the civil unit’s revenues have dropped to approximately 45 percent of its cost. By increasing the cost of private litigation functions, the ordinance “prevents subsidy of private litigation with public funds and allows for review every two years.”

Councilor Julie Olson verified that the fee increases only concerned private litigation. Shea said that public services carried out by the sheriff’s office did not fall under the new fees.

Additionally, Shea noted that services such as protection orders, domestic violence orders and subpoenas from the prosecutor’s office did not incur fees.

Shea also said that the fee increases and the ordinance would help facilitate the replacement of the sheriff’s office civil unit supervisor. According to Shea, the current civil unit supervisor is well experienced and plans to retire in the first half of 2019.

The fund increase would help pay for the training of a replacement civil unit supervisor. The new fees will in part pay for “a minimum of one year of training,” Shea said.

Council members expressed appreciation that the sheriff’s office was planning ahead to smoothly transition a new employee into a position. “I appreciate the forward thinking on this,” Councilor John Blom said.

Councilor Jeanne Stewart called the plan to phase in a replacement civil unit supervisor “a very good idea.”

The ordinance to increase the fees charged by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office for issues related to civil litigation passed unanimously.

Fire Marshal Fee Increase Passes

Members of the Clark County Board of Councilors also voted Tuesday to approve an ordinance that increases the fee amounts charged by the Fire Marshal’s Office for services related to new construction projects.

Clark County Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway said that the ordinance would increase fees “related to new construction permits” by 7.5 percent.

Dunaway said that the fee increases only pertained to new construction projects that needed plan review and inspection by the fire marshal. Fire and life safety inspections were not affected by the fee increases.

According to Dunaway, the fee changes resulted in an average of $14 increases over older inspection fees.

Dunaway gave three examples of how the fees would affect new construction projects. The first was a fire alarm inspection fee for the new Hockinson middle school. Under the old fees, the cost was $620, and the new fee system would increase the cost to $667, a $47 increase.

The second example Dunaway provided was the inspection fee for a fire sprinkler system in the new Hockinson middle school. Currently, the cost would be $2,174, but the new fee rates would increase that cost to $2,339.35, an increase of $165.35.

Finally, Dunaway gave the example of a building inspection for a new 12,000 square foot light industrial building. The current inspection fee would be $672, and under the new fees would cost $724, equalling an increase of $52.

Dunaway said that the fee increases would only affect new projects that needed plan review and inspections by the fire marshal.

Councilor Julie Olson asked if the fee increases affected residential construction. According to Dunaway, the fees could affect residential construction in some, areas such as sprinkler systems.

However, he noted that residential fees are not as expensive as industrial, as in the example of sprinkler systems, the cost is based on the number of individual sprinkler heads in the building. A residential structure will have fewer sprinklers than an industrial complex, and thus cost less, Dunaway said.

Dunaway also noted that the majority of residential permits are not serviced by the fire marshal, as most houses fall under square foot requirements for inspection. Houses over 3,600 square feet may require special fire safety features, but are not commonly seen by the fire marshal’s office.  

According to Dunaway, the 7.5 percent increase in fees means “we’re getting the fees to pay for the service we’re currently providing.”

A staff report issued by the fire marshal’s office noted that the fee increases were part of a package submitted as part of the 2017-2018 budget, and was designed to “reduce dependence on the General Fund.”

Members of the county council voted unanimously to approve the new fire marshal fee ordinance.

The full text of both the civil litigation fee ordinance and the fire marshal fee ordinance can be found online at the Clark County website at https://www.clark.wa.gov/sites/default/files/dept/files/the-grid/d091917_Hearing_CCSOCivilServicesFees.pdf and https://www.clark.wa.gov/sites/default/files/dept/files/the-grid/d091917Hearing_FireMarshalFees.pdf.

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About The Author

Alex Peru is a 2017 graduate of Washington State University Vancouver. He has a bachelor’s degree in History and a double minor in Political Science and Business Administration. Peru grew up in Battle Ground, and graduated from CAM Academy in 2013. He worked for The VanCougar, WSU Vancouver’s campus newspaper, for three years, including one year as the editor-in-chief. When not working, Peru enjoys reading books about history, working on cars and enjoying the outdoors in Clark County’s beautiful rivers, lakes and forests.

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