South Bethany considers changes to building permit fees

At their council workshop last week, South Bethany Town Council members discussed possible changes to the Town’s building permit fees.

Councilman Jim Gross said he entered into the discussion looking at simplifying and clarifying the fees, thinking it could be done fairly simply, but, he said, “I was naïve as hell.”

“It’s a contradiction of any methodology you want to apply,” he said of the current system.

He then went through the current schedule of fees, saying that it was unfair and inconsistent.

“Number 11 is $50, regardless of the cost of construction,” he said referencing that fences, paved driveways, pavers and flagpoles carried a $50 permit fee, regardless of how much the homeowner spent on them.

He referenced a recent permit for a project in which the homeowner got pavers in their driveway at a cost of more than $30,000 and paid only a $50 permit fee.

He then mentioned several improvements — including roofing, siding and windows — that aren’t mentioned in the current code.

“Because it is not listed, our practice is to charge $50,” Gross said. He said using floor area as part of the fee calculation, as they do now for some improvements, “does not work for inexpensive areas. We need to move away from that and move toward cost.”

He then showed the council how, if the Town used a different way of calculating for new construction, using cost as a basis, there could be more income for the Town and fees could be spread out more uniformly. He explained the practices of several other local towns and the County, as well.

Dealing with renovations and remodeling, there was plenty of discussion by the council this week as to why permits and fees were needed in the first place.

“Why would we charge a permit fee if I am going to put a new kitchen floor in?” asked Councilwoman Sue Calloway. “If we are not inspecting it... it’s almost irrelevant, the $50. It’s just annoying. I don’t want to do anything to discourage homeowners from fixing up their house to look good.”

Mayor Kathy Jankowski agreed, saying it “doesn’t feel right to me if people are charged to fix up their house.”

Resident Kent Stephan during in the public comment portion of the meeting agreed, as well, and took it a step further.

“I would love it if my neighbors put in a $31,000 driveway,” he said. “Right now, we penalize the people who do the most to keep their property values up. I think we should do away with as many of the fees as possible.”

He then explained that, because of the current way the fees are calculated by the Town, they wouldn’t lose that much money by making such a change, and if they changed the way they charge for new construction to be more like neighboring towns, which charge 3 percent of cost, that money could be recouped and more added to it.

Gross explained that the Town needs to issue permits so they can be sure of compliance, and Calloway again asked how they would know if they don’t inspect it.

He suggested possibly having permits only for projects that exceed a certain cost and for new construction and substantial improvements and remodeling. They discussed establishing a certain percentage for the fee and multiplying it by a verifiable construction cost.

Council members noted that Gross had brought up many questions and things for them to think about and said they would put the issue on a workshop agenda again in the near future, to give themselves additional time to research the issue.

The council also heard this week from Tony Caputo, who now is working part-time for the Town, about the implementation of the Edmund’s financial system and how it could help the Town do its accounting in a more efficient way. Caputo said he would give the council a demonstration of the software once everything was set up, so they could better understand how it will assist the Town in its recordkeeping.