City reducing building permit fees, adding option for digital plan submittal

The city planning department is proposing to decrease building permit fees by 5 percent.

City Commissioners will consider the request during Tuesday’s meeting.

The decrease is needed to balance revenues with a state rule that caps those revenues.

Municipalities can charge fees for permits related to the building code, such as plumbing, mechanical, electrical, and more. Under state rules, those fees can only be used to fund code enforcement programs and “it is not intended that permit fees be used to support fire departments, planning, zoning or other activities, except to the extent that employees in those programs provide direct plan review, inspection or other building code enforcement services for the city, county, or town’s building code enforcement programs.”

The revenues pay for the building and safety division within city planning.

[View the proposed fee chart]

That includes plan reviewers, building inspectors and permit technicians, according to Craig Raymond, city planning director. Salaries for eight full-time staff in the department are paid by permit fees and not funded by taxpayer dollars, Raymond said.

Permit fees collected in a given year in excess of the costs of administering the building code enforcement programs are placed in reserve to be used in subsequent years, but the reserve cannot exceed the amount needed to support the program for 12 months.

Raymond said improved economic conditions have caused the permit fee revenue to increase dramatically since 2011, when the city increased permit fees. The fees were increased again in 2014.

Raymond told The Electric that with the projects in the pipeline, he’s anticipating that they’ll hit the maximum limit and is asking commissioners to reduce the fee amounts to keep the city in compliance.

Raymond and his staff will continue to monitor the fund to determine if further reductions are necessary, depending on construction and permitting activity, permit revenue and budget needs.

According to city planning, the department issued 3,655 permits between July 2016 and June 2017 generating $1,284,117 in revenue.

From July 2017 to June 2018, the department issued 3,432 permits, generating $1,327,194.

Permit fees are calculated based on the value of the project using guidance from the state administrative rules.

City planning is also reviewing proposals for new software that would allow developers to submit digital plans, pay fees online and check the status of their projects.

Submitting plans online saves paper, time and costs for developers, Raymond told The Electric.

It will also be more efficient for city staff, Raymond said, since various departments will have access and be able to share and make comments more quickly.

“It’s going to be an all around better system for not just the city but also our customers,” Raymond said.

His office pursued the new software since developers have been asking for it for years, but the department didn’t have the budget resources until now, Raymond said.

The new software will also allow the department to make plans and documents available for public view on a public computer in the office.

Proposals were due in July and Raymond said the city received six. Those are being reviewed and demonstrations are planned for August and September. Raymond said he’s hoping to make a selection in September. The evaluation team includes city staff members from planning, fire, engineering, IT and mapping offices.

The planning department also recently ordered three large screens that staff will use to view and evaluate submitted plans and make comments for developers, versus writing notes on paper copies of plans, which are large and depending on the complexity of the project, have many pages.

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Raymond said one will be in the department conference room where staff from multiple departments meet with developers, and the others in the area where plans examiners and inspectors work.

The city had budgeted $100,000 for the screens, but the cost was significantly lower than they anticipated at $20,873 for all three.