Vote results in slight fee raise for residential homebuilders

Builders and developers in St. Helens have benefited from a reduction in fees paid to the city for new construction since 2010.

But that deal will not be as sweet for residential developers following the St. Helens City Council’s vote to extend a reduced waiver Wednesday.

The City Council adopted a resolution in 2010 waiving 50 percent of what the city calls “system development charges,” which are essentially fees to cover the added burden to city infrastructure — water, sewer, parks and transportation — that a new building brings.

The council has repeatedly voted to extend the waiver, which was set to expire June 30 unless the council took action Wednesday.

Mayor Randy Peterson explained ahead of Wednesday’s meeting that the discount was implemented “as incentive for people to build” during the recession that gripped the county and nation.

But while real estate agent Jeff Yarbor said the housing market appears to be recovering, he urged councilors not to end the discount yet, warning that developers could be discouraged from building in St. Helens altogether.

“This is the first chance we’re getting at the comeback,” Yarbor said.

But Council President Doug Morten and Councilors Susan Conn and Keith Locke were leery of keeping system development charges as low as they have been.

“We still have gravel roads in our city,” said Morten. “How do we address getting those streets paved if we’re going to continue to cut our SDCs in transportation?”

Conn noted that the council has voted twice to extend the waiver since she took office last year.

“I feel like we just keep continuing it and pushing it down the road,” Conn said.

Peterson, who appeared more sympathetic to the arguments of Yarbor and others testifying at Wednesday’s work session, suggested that the waiver could be extended for another six months.

“I certainly am not proposing that we keep the rates low forever,” Peterson said. “I think we need to extend them for a little while longer until the market’s come back together a little bit.”

Morten said he would be open to a 90-day extension of the waiver, while Locke suggested the discount could be halved for residential construction.

As the council weighed its options, Locke offered a motion to continue the discount for commercial construction at 50 percent, but decrease the discount for residential construction to 35 percent, while keeping the waiver alive for another six months.

“A little bit more money in our pocket,” Locke said of the waiver reduction. “That’s all it is.”

“I think that’s a good compromise,” Morten agreed.

Locke’s motion passed 3-1. Peterson opposed the motion, while Councilor Ginny Carlson was absent.

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