A building-permit fee study the town paid approximately $18,000 for more than two years ago did not receive much support from the Longboat Key Town Commission Monday, Oct. 4, at Town Hall.
The study, which had been revised several times by Anaheim, Calif.,-based Willdan Financial Services over the last 28 months, will most likely be revised again.
The town, in an attempt to help make the Planning, Zoning and Building Department break even or create a profit, approved the study in May 2008 to make sure its building department was charging sufficient fees.
Willdan consultants presented the study to the commission at a special workshop and explained that a revised fee schedule for building permits would help the town recover costs.
The building department, according to Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson, could do a better job of recouping fees for renovation permits, which make up the bulk of the department, because the island is essentially built out.
Willdan recommends the town use a deposit-based fee in the future for permits pulled, which would allow the department to recoup monies if a contractor were to abandon a project without performing the work.
The company also recommends the department charge by the hour for work done by its employees instead of charging by job valuations.
Flat fees for small jobs, such as the replacement of a water heater, would also rise to reflect what neighboring communities and counties charge.
The replacement of a water heater on Longboat Key would now cost $70 for the permit, as suggested in the study. The current fee is $50.
But Mayor George Spoll, Vice Mayor Jim Brown and Commissioner Phillip Younger didn’t like the fact that contractors and residents would be charged a deposit instead or a set fee for larger jobs.
“I’m not so sure this application (wouldn’t) encourage people not to get permits,” Younger said.
Spoll, a retired home builder and architectural engineer who sat on a committee that revised building fees for the town of West Hartford, Conn., years ago, agreed.
“Not too long ago, this town restored the integrity of its building department by lowering its fees,” Spoll said. “If you push fees higher than where they need to be, you will find more and more people not taking out permits for simple jobs just to avoid paying the fee.”
Spoll suggested the town consider keeping base fees that can be raised in increments, depending on the square footage of a job.
Simpson said that is a policy decision the commission must make.
“The policy is yours and we would rather keep a fee lower, but we have to realize we won’t recover the costs,” Simpson said.
Brown, a retired architect, also warned the town tread lightly before adopting the recommendations presented.
“What concerns me is whatever decision we make, this group is going to hear about it if fees go up,” Brown said. “We just raised taxes and we have to be careful here.”
Town Manager Bruce St. Denis told the commission he understood the concerns.
“We first addressed the department’s issues with not collecting enough money to break even with layoffs,” St. Denis said. “If we don’t start charging more for renovation work now, we must make the decision to continue to subsidize the department by using money from the general fund.”
In fiscal year 2008-09, the town transferred $287,000 in general-fund cash to the building department to cover losses.
This year, St. Denis said the town only has to cover approximately $24,000 in losses. But St. Denis is worried because the department has no reserves on which to rely.
St. Denis also acknowledged some contractors expressed concern with not knowing exactly how much the permit fee would be.
Even though a deposit in the suggested system is all a contractor most likely will pay for a permit, that number could rise if issues occurred during the course of a construction project.
Younger suggested the town consider a combination of smaller deposit amounts and levy additional charges if needed. And any deposit amount, Younger suggested, should include a not-to-exceed clause amount, so contractors wouldn’t be worried about rising costs.
The conversation led Spoll to say he disagreed with the concept presented.
“People will be challenging your costs constantly,” Spoll said. “I think it’s important a customer come in and know what the cost of his or her service is. It’s much simpler to have flat fees.”
The commission agreed to review the study further and possibly discuss it again at its Thursday, Oct. 21 regular workshop or a future special workshop.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].