Public hearing to discuss fire impact fees

Published on Thu, Aug 26, 2010 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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The North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners will hold a public comment period as part of their next regular meeting to gather opinion on proposed mitigation fee changes.

Fire chief Tom Fields said the board will vote at their September 16 meeting whether to lower the fees for developers planning buildings equipped with fire sprinklers. Both residential and commercial land developers pay the fees once a building permit has been received from the county.

The changes to the fees were developed in response to complaints from developers that the current amounts are too high, Fields said.

“We had to ask how can we adjust these fees so they’re reasonable but still defensible,” Fields said.

The current fee for a single family home or duplex is $995 per house. This fee only applies to large-scale residential developments, Fields said.

The inclusion of fire sprinklers in the houses would cut the fee down to $497; a 50 percent decrease.

For example, a 50-house development would cost a developer $24,882 in mitigation fees with fire sprinklers and $49,764 without.

A developer of a multi-family residential complex currently pays $1,428 per living unit. Including fire sprinklers in such a complex would reduce the mitigation fee to $357, which is a 75 percent decrease.

The mitigation fee a commercial developer would pay depends upon the type of commercial development. Current fees range from 43 cents per square foot for industrial or manufacturing buildings to $14 per square foot for nursing homes.
Commercial fees would be cut by 75 percent across the board.

Fees for specific commercial buildings vary based upon the impact they have on the fire department’s resources, Fields explained.

Nursing home mitigation fees are high because of the frequency of calls the department’s advanced life support services field there, he said.

The fees pay for the addition of new fire facilities and equipment, such as fire stations and engines, to handle an increase in population spurred by new development, Fields said.

“The board’s view is that new development must pay for impacts on existing infrastructure,” Fields added.

The mitigation fees were developed as part of the department’s capital financial plan, Fields said. The department has worked with the county for the last four years to develop the plan, which was approved in November of last year.

The growth of the county forced the department to determine how often they will need new facilities and equipment, which is what the financial plan does, Fields explained.

The department gathered public opinion on the plan over the course of four years with two public hearings and four public workshops, he said.

The public hearing for the mitigation fee changes will take place at North Whatcom Fire and Rescue’s Lynden fire station 71, which is at 307 19th Street.