Homeowners could get break under SeaTac permit fee proposal

by Jack Mayne

The City of SeaTac has kept many of the same city permit fee schedules since incorporation in 1990, and the City Council was last week briefed on proposed new permit fees and, in some cases, dropping fees altogether.

Homeowners would get a percentage rate reduction on permits for home repairs under the proposed plan and all fees would be more harmonized with neighboring cities.

The changes were outlined in a presentation at the Council study session on Nov. 12 – moved from the normal Tuesday date because of the Veterans Day holiday.

The Council voted unanimously to put the fee proposal up for public hearing and expected adoption and at the Council’s next regular meeting on Nov. 25.

Inconsistent fees
Many of the circa 1990 service fees remain behind market averages while others have been revised more frequently “in response to national codes or other Council actions” with resultant inconsistencies, said Joe Scorcio, the director of community and economic development.

Some fees were recommended to be dropped entirely, for example a $30 fee for mailing out Council weekly agendas and an annual $250 fee for mailing out Council meeting packets.

“Everything is online (on the Internet) so we don’t use it and we recommend dropping it,” Scorcio said.

But new fees were added.

For example, a new fee of $300 was added for a developer’s pre-application fee to “cover a high developer-related activity area which involves many hours of staff time from multiple departments.”

Surrounding cities charge this fee to cover the cost of city staff taking time and meeting to discuss potential projects with the variety of city departments that may be involved, said Scorcio. Sometimes the meeting results in a decision that the project is not ready to proceed, other times potential problems are found early in the process.

Harmonizing with neighbors
In addition, they checked and tried to harmonize the fee schedule with neighboring cities where fees are often much different in costs to homeowners and contractors.

Rezone requests now in SeaTac have a complex variable fee schedule that ranges from $1,500 to $50,000.

Scorcio said the proposed new fee would be a flat fee of $7,050.

Short plat requests are a “high volume area for the city,” he said. They are sub dividing one parcel into four lots or less, he said.

“That is a primary development activity in the city – it’s what happening in SeaTac. Again, we have a very complicated, add-on fee methodology fee in the tables right now. We are consolidating that into a flat fee of $3,760 plus a flat fee of $2,200 for final plats.

“Again, this is a way to eliminate confusion a be able to answer definitively ‘what’s the fee’.” Scorcio said there were a lot of changes proposed to the city’s fee schedule.

Will permits scare homeowners?
Councilmember Terry Anderson asked if there would be a city fee for reroofing a house and when told there has always been a city fee for a permit to do that, she said that would not be an inducement to people to fix up their property.

“It has not been a discouragement for reroofing,” Scorcio said, prompting Anderson to suggest not just reroofing but generally rehabbing older houses, which she said a lot of people are doing in the city.

“If they had to pay a fee for everything they were doing with this house, they are just going to walk away.”

New homeowner exemptions
Owners who occupy their own home would get a 20 percent credit on applications and permits “common to homeowners” in order to “recognize existing contribution to general taxes” paid by these people, Scorcio said, in order “to shift balance toward user fees.”

Scorcio said proposed homeowner credits would lower some of the permits costs.

For example the current cost of a permit to reroof a home is a $45 work permit fee plus a $65 inspection fee. That would be replaced with a flat fee of $90.

But with the 20 percent proposed city homeowner and occupant credit, the fee would be a flat $72, a saving of $15.

Another example of savings, is the homeowner permit fees for replacement of a furnace, now a $50 fee and a $65 inspection fee. The proposed fee to non-occupant homeowner would be a flat $65 but that cost to an occupant homeowner would be a flat $52.

If a homeowners lot line must be adjusted, the current cost is $400 plus hourly engineering review fees, typically $1,000, Scorcio said. But the proposed new fee would be a flat fee of $1,230. Homeowner occupants would pay a flat $984 fee.

He said the people paying fees get a service for the money, including inspections that could prevent or lower future expenses. Fees do not cover the total cost of the city staff work involved, but the fees proposed do get more of the costs covered than the current fee schedule.

“It will cover at least half, if not slightly over half of that it that it typically will cost us to provide these services,” Scorcio said.

When credit takes effect
After a question from Councilmember Pam Fernald, Scorcio said it was up to the city to decide when the homeowner credit takes effect. It would be allowed if a homeowner contracted for the work to be done rather than the homeowner, themselves, doing the work.

Scorcio said the proposed homeowner credit was not for remodeling a home, the credit is mainly for common activities “homeowner would like do themselves or might have a contractor come in to do it.”

Fernald asked about the consequences for a homeowner just doing the work without getting a fee. Scorcio said there is a double fee proviso already in the law that doubles permit fees and it is routinely imposed when the city discovers the violation. The proposed changes would keep that double fee provision.

Scorcio did say that people who move a door or put in a window may or may not fall under the law and may not trigger action.

But a project putting on another room or altering plumbing probably will mean that there will be contractors involved who know permits are needed.

Councilmembers Tony Anderson and Dave Bush said the proposed new fee schedule was needed to be comparable with surrounding cities and for the safety of residents because inspections reveal potential problems.

Bush said he found the old fee schedule had a $40 permit fee for groups like the Girl Scouts to sell cookies, but a $5 fee for a firearms fee.

“We really need to change this,” Bush said.

City Finance Director Aaron Antin said there is no reason because there are currently fee exemptions for nonprofit services groups like the Girl Scouts or the Rotary Club. That exemption would be retained in the new schedule.



New Angle Lake project
The Council study session on Wednesday (Nov. 12) heard a presentation by Cindy Edens, senior vice president and director of development with Wright Runstad, on the Angle Lake light rail station 7.8-acre mixed-use project where airport parking is now.

The first phase of the development is slated to begin in 2016 with future phases dependent on market needs and potential completion in 2017. The Sound Transit station is expected to open in 2016.

Edens said the of the South 200th Street project will be flexible to accommodate development of offices, hotels and retail stores, adjacent to the Sound Transit station, and the potential of a new building for the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA). The agency is expected to make a final decision on the building by next March, she said.

This “awesome location” at Pacific Highway and 200th has easy access to the Seattle, South Sound and the airport, she said, with the “views to the Sound are just amazing.”

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