October 14, 2002
County has a captive audience
Regarding King County's permit processing department's fees "being charged at various rates, sometimes as high as $132 per hour," as stated by King County Executive Ron Sims at the Sept. 30 Unincorporated Area Council's meeting:
Except for flat fees charged for some services, $132/hour is the norm for obtaining permits. Travel time, initial and follow-up on-site visits, telephone calls, and reports-writing time are all charged at $132/hour, even for tree-cutting permits.
What's particularly egregious, through, is that while those who appeal a permit - usually the neighbors - are charged a flat $250 to file the appeal, the unhappy person holding the appeal permit is charged $132/hour for each of the staff persons involved in the appeal.
A recent example in the Bear Creek area is that of a landowner who received permission to build within a very circumscribed area away from creekfront. The appellants were neighbors whose own houses were built close to the creek, with lawns extending to the creek and even a water-withdrawal pump for landscape watering.
I saw the landowner's bill for the first day of the appeal hearing - more followed. That one-day bill totaled $2,230.08. (The appeal fees were on top of between $20,000 and $30,000 of the landowner's other permit fees, not including road impact fees and drainage review fees yet to come.)
After multi-thousands of dollars in appeal fees, the landowner prevailed over the neighbors (who wanted the land preserved as open space to benefit fish.)
King County should adopt a rule that either shifts the appeal costs to appellants whose appeals fail, or else reduce the landowner's appeal charges to no more than the $250 charged to the appellants. The current system is blatantly unfair.
As the county's claim that its permit department is being run like a business, with users paying the costs, any engineering firm, plumbing firm, electrical firm, etc., that charged its customers $132/hour would soon find itself out of business. Unfortunately, the county has a captive clientele.
Maxine Keesling, Woodinville