County to hear permit late-fee ordinance

Sussex County will hold a public hearing at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday to consider an ordinance that would make it more costly for builders to start construction without building permits from the county.

The ordinance would raise the fine from $100 to the value of the building permit. If the building permit cost $1,000, for instance, builders would have to pay a $1,000 fine for starting construction without the permit, resulting in a $2,000 total charge to build. When the ordinance was introduced on June 6, officials said that the average building permit in the county costs $900.

“The spirit of this is not to increase cash flow but to correct behavior,” said county Administrative Assistant Hal Godwin. “A $100 fine is not incentive to do things in a timely manner.”

In the first quarter of this year, the county recorded 50 violations of the building permit code, officials said earlier this month. Those 50 violations, on average, would have generated $45,000 in revenues for the county, $40,000 more than they did under the county’s current code.

Most of those violations came from a Milford development that county council and administrative staff members did not name.

In many cases, developers applied for 15 to 20 permits to build homes, officials said, but built 50-100 without immediately returning for the rest. The Milford violations were not noticed right away because Milford officials inspect projects within the town, a process that varies throughout the county. County officials inspect much of the projects within the county and all of the projects in unincorporated parts of Sussex.

In places such as Milford, Councilman Vance Phillips questioned the building permit application process because builders have to pay for two sets of building permits: one for the county and one for the town.

In the unincorporated areas of the county, builders only have to pay one set of fees because County Council is the only legislative body governing that area.

“It seems like they’re treated unfairly because they’re in the town and they pay two sets of fees,” Phillips said on June 6.

County Administrator Bob Stickels said, however, that even in places such as Milford where town officials inspect projects, the county does still collect school taxes.

Stickels said that the county collects all of the school taxes in the county, both unincorporated and incorporated parts. County officials collect $58 million in school taxes each year from county residents.

If those county officials don’t have permits on record, they don’t know the home exists and the tax collecting process can be delayed. Visit Sussex County’s Web site at to obtain a copy of the building permit late-fee ordinance.