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Northampton studies increase in permit fees

Published 5:56pm Sunday, April 13, 2014

JACKSON – Before placing their stamp of approval on a request to increase the dollar amount of permit fees assessed by the Code Enforcement Department, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners cite the need for a better comparison between the old and new amounts.

At their meeting here Monday morning, the Commissioners listened as Code Enforcement Officer Jay Watson laid out a proposal to increase the permit fees for the first time since August of 2001. However, in the end, the board opted to table the proposal until Watson could submit a spreadsheet that details the cost of each fee (old vs. new).

In explaining his proposal, Watson said an update was needed to the fee schedule, “to more accurately reflect current expenses and costs associated with the enforcement of state statutes, rules and regulations, and local ordinances with regards to the issuance of permits and the performance of inspections.”

“We’re long overdue for an increase that reflects the current day costs as compared to 2001,” Watson said. “Over the last 13 years, gasoline, salaries, training and certification costs and office expenses have all gone up.”

Another point of emphasis Watson alluded to was that the current schedule charges the same fees for residential and commercial projects.

“Most commercial projects require more inspections per trade (construction, electrical, plumbing, etc.) than a residential project,” he noted. “We do more commercial inspections than residential ones. This new proposal now separates the two.”

As an example of one of the proposed changes, Watson said there is currently a $30 fee assessed for a renovation building permit, regardless if it’s just one room or the entire house. He said the new fee schedule will use the square footage of the renovation to determine the permit fee.

Watson added that seven surrounding counties have either already updated their permit fee schedules or are currently preparing to do so.

“I can certainly understand that this may be needed with no increase in fees over a period of 13 years, but I’m having to flip over to so many pages (in the new proposal)…I wish this was on a spreadsheet wherein all these items could be compared,” said Commission Chairman Robert Carter following Watson’s presentation.

Commissioner Virginia Spruill inquired about how specific a person needed to be upon making a request for renovation permit and the associated fees with that project. She said she understood the need to base the fee on the size of the job (square footage), but pointed out that renovation projects, more often than not, are typically riddled with unforeseen problems.

“I honestly don’t know how anyone, the homeowner or a contractor, can come up with a set fee for a renovation project,” Watson stressed. “You don’t know what’s behind those walls….there may be termite damage; there may be mold and instead of fixing one place in a wall as originally planned, you may wind up tearing it down and replacing the entire wall. About the only thing you can do is estimate…or guesstimate.”

Costs for a new project, Watson said, are better identifiable up front due to having a blueprint in place, to include all the mechanical, electrical, insulation, and plumbing specs.

Watson also fielded a question about contractors.

“We have contractor verification forms that must be filled out and we check the legitimacy of the (state-issued) license of those contractors before we issue a permit,” Watson said. “In some cases the permits are rejected up front because the contractor has an invalid license.”

Back to the matter at hand regarding the proposed changes to the fee schedule, Commissioner Fannie Greene said she agreed with Carter on the issue of having the old vs. new fees side by side on a spreadsheet for the ease of viewing.

“Would you consider doing that….putting those numbers on sheet where we can compare them better,” Greene asked Watson. “This is difficult to read and follow.”

“I’m hearing confusion and frustration in reading these changes,” Carter said. “This is not time sensitive; it can be adopted today or next week. If there’s that much confusion among the board members, I would ask that you (Watson) re-do this on a spreadsheet and bring it back to the board to view and possibly adopt, perhaps as early as our next meeting.”

The board agreed with Carter’s suggestion and the item was tabled.

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