Permit fine ordinances introduced by county

Those who violate Sussex County code by building without permits may soon pay a larger fine for doing so. Sussex County Council introduced an ordinance at its Tuesday meeting that would make builders pay a fine identical to the building permit cost as the penalty for violating the county code. Currently, builders who build without permits have to pay the county only a $100 fine.

“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 Tuesday. The average building permit in the county costs $900, they said. Under the new penalty structure, 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 initially applied for 15 to 20 permits to build homes, officials said, but built 50 to 100 without immediately returning for the additional permits required. 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 most of the projects within the county and all of the projects in unincorporated parts of Sussex.

Further, Councilman Vance Phillips questioned the building permit application process in places such as Milford 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.

County Administrator Bob Stickels said, however, that even in places such as Milford, where town officials inspect projects, the county does still hold responsibility and suffers from builders ignoring the permitting process.

Stickels said that the county collects all of the school taxes in the county — 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.

With that, the ordinance was introduced. It will be discussed and considered at future council meetings.

Signage fines?

Sussex County Councilman George Cole presented an idea to council on Tuesday for a fine that would apply to developers and builders who abandon large signs throughout the county. Extensive development in the county has attracted large, national development corporations, which often leave signs lingering on the side of the road, Cole said. They should be fined for such actions by the county, he added.

County officials said that DelDOT has a fine for such activities, but only when the sign is left right along the highway.

“There’s no fear,” Cole opined. “The only way you’re going to change behavior with these big guys is to hit them in the pocketbook. I’d like to get something done. It’s just going to get worse.” And, Cole added, “It could be revenue-generating.”