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King County Executive
Dow Constantine


Constantine reform of DDES: fixed fees rather than hourly rates and new customer service unit for rural owners

Summary

More property owners will have the certainty of knowing their permit fees up front, and rural property owners will be the focus of a new customer service unit, under reforms being implemented by King County Executive Dow Constantine at the Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES), the county’s building and land use permitting agency.

Story

More property owners will have the certainty of knowing their permit fees up front, and rural property owners will be the focus of a new customer service unit, under reforms being implemented by King County Executive Dow Constantine at the Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES), the county’s building and land use permitting agency.

“Remaking DDES is one of my top priorities, and starting now to create a unit that exclusively serves rural property owners will better prepare us for the day when cities have completed their annexations and the agency primarily serves the rural areas,” said Executive Constantine.

“A new rate structure with fixed fees provides greater predictability and transparency by letting customers know the total charges up front,” he added. “Charging by the hour makes it difficult for property owners to predict and control costs, while frustrating our staff in their ability to provide patient and thorough customer service.”

The Executive’s reform package calls for DDES to:

• Develop a new rate structure for County Council consideration that replaces hourly rate fees by fixed fees wherever practicable, in order to provide greater incentives for internal efficiencies and greater predictability for customers.

• Begin work now to create a Rural Land Use and Permitting Unit by next year that is responsive to specific issues in the rural area, and staffed to provide efficient and high quality customer services to rural property owners.

“The hourly rate and customer service are the two biggest challenges facing DDES today. Executive Constantine’s proposal addresses these issues and appears to move the agency in the right direction,” said Metropolitan King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, whose district includes the unincorporated rural areas of southeast King County. “I appreciate his approach to the issue and look forward to working with him to institute these reforms as soon as possible.”

“This proposal to improve customer service in our building department is in direct response to complaints that King County has received from customers and will go a long way toward achieving transparency and better responsiveness,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who represents northeast King County. “A new focus on rural land uses acknowledges that the concept of ‘one-size-fits-all’ does not always work for diverse needs such as farms and subdivisions. This proposal is an important step in rebuilding the county’s trust with property owners in the unincorporated area and refocusing King County’s attention on providing excellent local government services.”
 
“A new fee structure will help DDES better serve our customers and address ongoing structural budget challenges faced by the Department,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson, Chair of the Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee. “I believe this reform has the potential to reform the structural budget challenges faced by the Department and I want to thank the Executive for his proposal.”

“King County’s development community has been hard hit by the economic downtown and that translates into decreased permit activity,” said Councilmember Jane Hague. “This is the perfect time to review the entire DDES fee structure as well as the processes that can support improved and cost-efficient service delivery.”
 
King County will continue to encourage cities under the Growth Management Act to annex adjoining urban unincorporated neighborhoods, so that DDES can focus on its future mission of primarily serving rural property owners. Sixty percent of the DDES workload currently comes from urban unincorporated areas located within potential annexation areas.

“I am pleased to see Executive Constantine addressing the concerns voiced by residents in unincorporated King County about the complexity of the permitting process,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, who represents the urban unincorporated area of Skyway. “This is a strong first step towards making a process that is more understandable and easily navigated.”

Since 1999 DDES has been a self-supporting agency whose costs must be covered by fees. The current hourly rate of $140 per hour has not changed since 2004. DDES workers process about 120 different types of building and land use permits, totaling about 3,700 permits per year, within a current annual budget of $17.8 million.

Under the reform package, the current structure with hourly rates will remain in place for the rest of the year, with no increase in fees. A Council budget proviso in November directed the Executive to propose a permit fee increase this year to fund the agency’s operations.

“With the economy still struggling to recover, this is no time for an hourly rate increase, especially when the rate structure is the fundamental issue that needs to be examined,” said Executive Constantine.

“I thank our new director John Starbard for working quickly to meet with employees and develop a reform package that removes a key impediment to their work with customers, without sacrificing our high expectations for quality, safety, and environmental protection,” added the Executive.

The Executive directed DDES to work aggressively on development of the Rural Land Use and Permitting Unit, and to develop new financial projections to guide next year’s budget so that the flat-fee structure can be put before the Council this fall for adoption beginning in 2011.



Learn more about DDES at:

www.kingcounty.gov/property/permits

King County Executive
Dow Constantine
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