There was spirited discussion last night at the Bloomsburg Town Council meeting over the payment of Building Permit Fees, occupying nearly 20 minutes of the hour-long session. The issue centered around whether or not the Town should maintain, waive, or reduce the permit fees for the part of the population repairing their flood-damaged homes.
Ultimately no decision was reached on the fees, with the issue being postponed for further discussion until the Administrative and Budget Council meeting on Wednesday, November 9th.
Town residents are normally required to pay the Town a building permit fee of $10 per $1,000 spent on residential building improvements and repairs up to the first $20,000, and $4.00 per $1,000 thereafter.
Ed Fegley, Code Enforcement Officer for the Town, began his report to the Council by stating that residents still need to apply for permits for any repairs to their property, but asked the council for guidance regarding the fees for these permits.
Currently the Town is issuing permits pending fees to be paid later, but no fees are being collected at this time. Mr. Fegley cited issuing permits pending fees was done previously during the flooding in 2006.
Council Member Paul Kinney began the discussion by voicing his opinion that the Town not charge permit fees to flood-affected residents. “I think we ought to waive them,” stated Mr. Kinney. “It’s bad enough they lost a lot, everything. Why fork out more money to pay for a permit?”
Mayor Dan Knorr and Council Member Diane Levan both expressed concern over the cost to the Town over waiving permit fees since it is likely that a third-party agency would need to be hired to assist in their issuance.
Mr. Oren Helbok of East 5th Street added his voice to the discussion in support of the Town keeping the regular fees in place. “I would say that waiving the fees, while heartfelt, would not be the right move. Say my house burned down, would Council waive the fees on my permit for rebuilding that? We obviously have a lot of people who are in a bad situation, but it’s not necessarily up to the rest of the town to pay every part of their rebuilding.”
“I would say building permit fees go toward making sure the job is done well,” Mr. Helbok continued. “The scale of it makes it seem different, but any individual tragedy is the same tragedy.”
Mr. Fred Trump, Iron St., disagreed. “The people down there are elderly, their homes are destroyed, and if you want to talk about putting another fee on them, I think that’s horrendous, I think it would be wrong, and I don’t think you should be considering it at this point.”
Mayor Knorr then reminded those gathered that the cost of making sure repairs are done well will be borne by the Town whether or not the regular permit fees are maintained, reduced, or waived. “This [the work that will be done by the Town regardless] is part of the cost of ensuring that something is rebuilt correctly. Regardless of whether we make them [the permit applicants] pay that share of it, that cost is still going to be borne.”
Mr. Fegley then offered a compromise of a yet-to-be-determined reduced fee, but no data had been collected on the average cost of repairs done after the 2006 flood on which to base a reduced fee estimate. Mr. Fegley made his own estimation that average repairs would be about $15,000 per house, meaning an average permit fee of $150. Mr. Fegley also offered his opinion that the third-party agency hired to help with the issuance of permits would be willing to work with the Town on the structure of their usual fees.
Responding to the offer of reduced fees, Mr. Trump communicated his concern. “I think the fees should be waived,” said Mr. Trump. “You’re talking about fees that will place heavy burdens on the people of the west end of town.”
Carol Mas, Town Administrator, stated that she would know more about the cost to the Town after her meeting with FEMA authorities on the morning of Wednesday the 25th (today) about possible reimbursements. However she stated, “We do know we will not be reimbursed for building permits.”
Mr. Helbok then asked under what circumstances fees were reduced or waived in the past, and Mayor Knorr recalled that the Town waived such fees after the West Main Street fires. “We were trying to encourage redevelopment,” Mayor Knorr stated.
“And by waiving fees now,” responded Mr. Helbok, “you’re encouraging people to rebuild in the flood zone.”
For the moment the Council will maintain the status quo of issuing permits pending the payment of fees until the Town has a better idea of where it stands financially. The Budget Committee, which meets on Wednesday November 9th, will make a recommendation to the full Council on the status of the fees.
You can watch the entire Bloomsburg Town Council meeting here. Discussion of the Building Permit Fees begins just after the 37:30 time mark in the video.