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City of Willmar defeats building permit fee increases

WILLMAR — After more than 30 minutes of public comments and discussion, all eight Willmar City Council members voted Monday night against a proposed increase in city building permit fees.

Although he said he would vote against it, council member Rick Fagerlie made a motion to approve the increase “and be done with it,’’ seconded by Denis Anderson.

Voting against were Fagerlie, Anderson, Ron Christianson, Steve Ahmann, Audrey Nelsen, Bruce DeBlieck, Jim Dokken and Tim Johnson.

Fagerlie, chairman of the Community Development Committee which supported city staff in proposing the new fee schedule, said he favored increasing commercial fees but not residential fees. However, he said fees for both categories would need to be increased.

Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services, said staff was directed two months ago to pursue the adoption of new building and plumbing permit fee schedules. The new schedules were recommended by staff and discussed by the committee June 12. As a result, the council voted June 16 to set a public hearing to consider the new schedules.

Peterson proposed the council replace the 1994 Uniform Building Code Fee Schedule with the 1997 fee schedule. He said there was a 10 to 12 percent difference in the fees, depending on project valuations.

He said staff has done cost accounting for a number of years to approximate the true cost of providing plan review and inspection, among other services. He said the process is much broader and deeper than just having the building inspectors conduct the permit application, plan review, and inspections.

He said costs in 2011, 2012 and 2013 remained pretty consistent in the $440,000 to $450,000 range. But revenues in 2011 and 2012 were not sufficient to make up half of the cost of providing the service.

However, costs and revenues were nearly the same in 2013 due to budget reductions and increased construction value, especially for some larger projects.

“I think it’s time we take a look at adjusting these fees,’’ he said, adding the council makes the determinations regarding revenues. He said fees are a user fee and should be paid by the user of the service, not city taxpayers.

Chad Kompelien, a contractor, said state law requires cities to report all construction development-related fees to the state Department of Labor and Industry.and prohibits cities from using the revenues for purposes other than the purpose for which they are collected. He said the city has failed in the last four years to make the reports.

Peterson said time didn’t allow staff to do the reports because he was doing work for multiple departments. He said the reports are not a priority of the state “because we hear no contact from them at all with regard to that matter.’’

Christianson, a builder, said fees for a new house in Willmar are thousands of dollars, an amount which he called utterly ridiculous. He said fees have become a revenue source. He said they don’t need to be raised and he suspected they should be reduced.

Johnson said he researched state law that governs fees and how they relate to expenses. Johnson said he understood the law says fees must equal expenses and he said in 2013 it looked like fees and expenses balanced out.

“It looks to me that fees are right on point where they should be,’’ adding he sees no reason to reduce them.

Nelsen asked if council members changed their mind about the direction they had asked staff to go. Nelsen asked if the matter could be tabled, and City Attorney Robert Scott said the council could take the matter up at any time in the future.

Anderson said he thought the council had authorized moving ahead with it, but he said there did not seem to be a lot of interest in increasing the fees.

Council members Ahmann, also a builder, and Dokken also spoke against the fee increase.

Scott said he did not see a conflict of interest with contractors Christianson and Ahmann voting on the proposed increase.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150