Clark County commissioners split on cost of faster building permits

Updated February 6, 2018 - 11:30 pm

Developers who want expedited reviews of their building and zoning plans could be seeing major savings if Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak gets his way.

The commission chairman on Tuesday directed staff to draft an ordinance that would slash fees paid for expedited reviews to pay twice the fees other developers, down from the longstanding quadruple rate.

Sisolak, who called the current fee structure “exorbitant,” pointed out that fees are based on construction costs, not how long county staff review plans.

“That’s where you lose me on this deal,” Sisolak said. “I think this needs to go back to the costs of what this is and not have it be a money maker.”

Commissioners are expected to discuss the ordinance at their Feb. 20 meeting.

The county reports that over the past two years developers for 80 projects have paid a total of about $319,000 in extra fees for expedited review. The fees are placed into a fund that pays for the county building department’s operations.

The fund has a balance of $24 million.

“It’s a year’s reserves,” department director Jerry Stueve said after the meeting. “If for some reason development absolutely stopped we could run for a year.”

Assistant County Manager Randy Tarr cautioned that lowering the fee could result in an influx of requests for expedited service and divert resources from the regular line, prompting concern from Commissioner Susan Brager.

“Everybody’s important, but we can’t have this line get slower because people can pay… a million dollars because they need to get up and running and they‘re bigger and more powerful,” Brager said. “I disagree with that 100 percent.”

And there’s no shortage of high-dollar projects on the horizon.

Stueve said his department has begun reviewing plans for the Raiders Stadium. In the next few months they expect to receive plans for developments including a Madison Square Garden concert venue, Resorts World Las Vegas and an expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

“It’s a little awe-inspiring,” Stueve said.

Sisolak’s proposal to swiftly enact fee changes evoked criticism from other commissioners.

“If an ordinance comes my way, I will fill this room with people who don’t want a change,” Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she wants to formally solicit input from developers before taking any action.

“If the issue is really convention authority, or its convention authority and stadium, I’m bothered that we might be changing something to benefit one (project) right now without having the conversation with the full industry about what the real problem is,” she said.

Giunchigliani and Kirkpatrick agreed that the plan review process would benefit if the building department filled its vacant positions.

Stueve said his department is working to fill 10 positions. The load will also be lightened by contracts approved in early November that allow the county to outsource some of the plan reviews.

“We want to be careful not to re-staff if we’re just going to do layoffs,” he said. “We are trying to hire where our needs are.”

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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