City considering change to building fees

The city has been reviewing its development process for several years now and during their Nov. 17 meeting, City Commissioners will consider creating an investigation fee.

Projects submitted to the city’s Planning and Community Development office typically go through a plan review process, which verifies minimum code compliance and identifies any life safety issues.

It can be a “back and forth process” between city staff and developers to ensure those requirements are met, according to the city staff report.

“Occasionally, contractors and/or owners have taken it upon themselves to begin construction before a permit is issued. They essentially are working from a set of plans that may not meet minimum safety code requirements and were never approved for construction. Recently, we have had to place stop work orders on numerous non-permitted projects to halt construction. This fee resolution, proposes to formally establish a fee that accomplishes two things, discourage unauthorized construction, and capture costs associated with investigation of unauthorized construction,” according to the staff report.

The city’s first local building code was adopted around 1917, according to staff, and was in use until the Uniform Building Code was adopted in 1948.

In those codes, and other code updates until 1999, there was a double fee penalty for starting work without a permit and the investigation fee language was included, according to city staff.

When the Uniform Building Code was replaced by what is now the International Building Code in 2000, the penalty fee language was adjusted and stated, “any person who commences work on a building, structure, electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system before obtaining the necessary permits shall be subject to a fee established by the Building Official that shall be in addition to the required permit fee,” according to the city staff report.

That fee was never formally established by the City Commission, according to city staff, causing recent problems in trying to stop contractors or owners from prematurely starting work without the appropriate permits.

“Contractors and or owners who begin work using a plan not reviewed for code compliance can put the public at risk. The Building Safety Division would now like to formalize, by resolution, the traditional practice and ongoing policy of a double fee for unpermitted construction. This will ensure consistency within the department and provide commission support to this policy,” according to the staff report.

Revenue from the fee will help cover the cost of city plans examiners and inspectors who spend additional time investigating unpermitted work. It sometimes requires multiple inspectors on one project for many hours to investigate unpermitted work, according to the staff report, and without the fee, the costs could come from the permit fund and penalize those who follow the code requirements.