CBH Editorial: Fire impact fees cake is not baked

February 5, 2020 11:18 PM

If a cake is not done, you put it back in the oven. If you bake it and bake it and the cake is still unpalatable, there might be something wrong with the recipe.

In the case of the city of Moses Lake’s proposed fire impact fees, the cake is not fully baked, even though the idea has been around for many years as a way to add funds for the fire department.

The city has a proposal but has not made it clear what the fees would be spent on. At the city council meeting on Jan. 14, a fire impact fees proposal was on the agenda, but at the last minute staff revealed that the plan would need to be part of the city’s comprehensive plan.

The council tabled the proposal, putting it back in the oven. Starting over with a new recipe might be smarter.

It was good to see new Mayor David Curnel at the Jan. 14 meeting invite attendees to speak on the proposal. Several did, very diplomatically indicating that imposing fire impact fees would be a mistake.

One of the speakers was on a city subcommittee studying the issue, but not for very long. Other speakers who were not on the subcommittee also had highly pertinent objections to the fees. One view was that the city’s most recent look at fire impact fees seemed to go too fast for adequate study to be done.

If there were doubts on that point before, the Jan. 14 meeting basically ended them. It is a good thing the city learned that the planned use of impact fees must be spelled out in the comprehensive plan before collecting the fees. But such requirements would be known earlier in a healthy process of due diligence.

One concern is how the city will pay for operating and staffing facilities and engines that the fire department might add, funded by impact fees, which are for capital improvements.

Another question that needs to be asked is, why would the city want to signal that it does not welcome development or improvements?

The projected fee of $750,000 for the new Samaritan hospital alone is enough of a reason for the city to take a longer look.

Granted, the fire department might need a funding boost. It is a basic question that council members need to be clear on: Why doesn’t the current funding system work well enough, including for the new developments that would be hit by fire impact fees?

The subcommittee came up with the idea of a sales tax increase as a better mechanism. The subcommittee may develop more ideas, with time.

The city would be better served to give this subject more time and include more stakeholders in the process. The city should also pause in order to have Allison Williams, Moses Lake’s new city manager, weigh in with her experience and insight.

Moses Lake needs a better recipe for funding fire protection services than adding fire impact fees. Funding fire protection is a community-wide imperative and therefore deserves all the attention and time necessary to get the best result for Moses Lake.