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VANCOUVER, WA-Clark County is being sued by the Building Industry Association of Southwest Washington for allegedly collecting $4 million more in building permit fees than it is entitled to, according to a class-action lawsuit filed this week in Cowlitz County Superior Court.

David Roewe, the association’s executive director, tells GlobeSt.com that the county’s ordinances and statutes allow it to only collect what it needs to process the permits, but due to a lack of oversight that’s not what’s happening. The county has denied any wrongdoing, saying any fees were–and continue to be–used for departments directly related to the processing of building permits.

“It will be interesting,” says Roewe. “Our attorneys and CPAs are going through documents with regard to how much is being brought in and from whom and where they are transferring these monies. Our contention is the county is not allowed to use building permit funds to help pay for fire marshal and animal control activities. They’ve just kind of run rampant; I think we have a good case.”

Rich Carson, the county’s director of community development, tells GlobeSt.com the suit is without merit and that money building permit fees are not being used to support animal control or the fire marshal. “The math they are doing doesn’t accurately portray the situation,” he says. “They are saying the building department takes in a million dollars more than it spends each year and it doesn’t retain the funds, so it must be misusing the funds; that is no the case.”

For example, says Carson, they BIA is not accounting for the fact that “we took half the people from the building department and set up a permit services division, which processes building permits, and for code enforcement, wherein people catch people building without permits and makes them pay up, and for overhead such as fleet vehicles and computers and rent.

Regardless, it could be a while before the issue ends up in court. Roewe says his local BIA chapter is just now getting to court on another, similar lawsuit, eight months after initiating it. That suit regards the county’s park impact fees. The county admitted to $750,000 in overcharges since 1996 after its own internal audit, says Roewe, but wanted to give the money back to the homeowners rather than the people who paid the fee. A decision is expected in the next couple of weeks, says Roewe.

Carson, says that second lawsuit is “double-talk” on their part. “This is the same group that complained when we raised fees that it is putting an undue burden on home buyers because the fees must be passed on to them,” he says. “Now when we want to give it back, they’re saying they should have it; once we discovered the overcharges, we took it to court ourselves because we don’t want to pay one group and then get sued by another for the same money.”

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