Fee increases, changes to code for Safety Inspection Certificates proposed

City Commissioners will consider several code changes during their meeting on Tuesday.

Among them will be changes to Title 5, which pertains to the Business License and Safety Inspection Certificate regulations.

Most of the proposed amendments are non-substantive and include putting chapters in the correct numerical order, correcting typographical errors and reformatting subsections.

The Title 5 update is part of a broader effort to revise the entire city code since commissioners and staff members have noticed various deficiencies throughout the code, including typographical errors, needed updates and conflicts with state and federal law. City code also conflicts with itself in some areas, so city staff have been going through, title by title for a comprehensive revision.

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One of the proposed changes in Title 5 is repealing the telecommunication facilities regulations and moving them to a newly created Title 4. Staff is continuing to review that section for future substantive changes.

Another substantive proposed change is to clarify language regarding businesses that are required to obtain and maintain a Safety Inspection Certificate, or SIC.

Throughout the year, staff has recognized issues with SIC enforcement, according to the staff report, and the city does not require general business licenses.

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An SIC is required for all businesses operating within the city limits and the proposed changes will reduce the level of confusion as to what businesses will be required to obtain and maintain SICs.

The SIC fees cover a portion of the cost for the roughly 3,600 fire code inspections conducted on an annual basis.

City Commissioners will consider a proposal to increase SIC fees for the year 2018 by 15 percent. Fees haven’t been increased since 2008 and the proposed increase equals 1.5 percent increase per year to match the Consumer Price Index for the last decade, according to the staff report.

There are multiple tiers for SICs that are based on square footage. The proposed fee increase would mean most tier levels would pay an addition $17 to $58 annually. Staff is also proposing the creation of a Tier 6, which would incorporate about five businesses in the city that have more than 100,000 square feet.

Great Falls Fire Rescue has been conducting the SIC inspections for fire and life safety code for years. In 1996, the city established the SIC program. Before that, the city had a business license fee structure that provided limited funding and some occupancies could claim a state exemption from the licensing. When the city created the SIC program, those exemptions were eliminated and the fee structure was based on square footage of the occupancies.

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The Montana Supreme Court supported the city’s position on removal of the exemptions, according to staff.

Since 2004, all churches have been included in the Tier 1 category regardless of the square footage. Otherwise, Tier 1 is occupancies up to 2,000 square feet and under the proposal Tier 6 will be those over 100,000 square feet.

If the fee increase is approved, staff estimates the SIC program will generate an additional $21,000 annually. 

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Another substantive change proposed in the Title 5 revision is that all regulations regarding special business licenses and permits will be incorporated into that code section. Currently, many special business licenses regulations are in Title 15. Staff contends that this will make it simpler for business owners and operators to find the licensing and permitting regulations for operating their businesses.

The proposed revision would also clarify penalties for businesses operating without SICs, permits or licensing within the city limits. That would make it easier for city staff to enforce Title 5, according to the staff report.

Commissioners will also consider proposed changes to Title 15 relating to the pluming, fuel gas and electrical codes. Those sections are proposed to be repealed since they are being reassigned to Title 5.

There was no public comment on these changes when they were on the agenda for first reading in September and earlier this month.